"G" was created "Andrew Forrester, Jr." and appeared in The Female Detective (1864). Nothing is known about "Forrester," who was also the creator of Andrew Forrester, Jr., and it is quite possible that "Forrester" was a pseudonym, perhaps for a woman. (It'd be nice to think so, certainly).
Being the first in a genre is no small thing, but as with most genres detective fiction's origins are somewhat clouded. One can say with some justification that the Great Detective tradition, which was to so admirably spawn Sherlock Holmes, in fact started with Edgar Allan Poe's C. Auguste Dupin. But who was the first detective? Well, that depends on how you define the term. Some critics have gone back to the Bible, others to Voltaire's Zadig. Similarly, the identity of the first female detective is disputed. I lean toward E.T.A. Hoffmann's Mademoiselle de Scudéry, but Lucy Sussex has pooh-poohed that claim, as well as the claim of L_____. In the book of this site (coming, I'll repeat, in the winter/spring of 2005 from Monkeybrain Books) I'll mount a proper defense of these claims (I should probably rewrite their entries to support my arguments, but I've too many other things to do). For now, though, I'll simply point out that those are two of the contenders for the role of First Female Detective.
Two others, and the two most often identified as the first female detective, are Miss Paschal and "G." The publication dates for the books in which both characters appeared are somewhat clouded, but most critics simply say that both were published in 1864 and so give them co-ownership of the title.
"G" is, as mentioned, a female detective. She never provides her own name, using "Mrs. Gladden" briefly, and is a bit cagey about her own background:
It may be that I took to the trade, sufficiently comprehended in the title of this work without a word of it being read, because I had no other means of making a living; or it may be that for the work of detection I had a longing which I could not overcome.She does not mention a husband after that, so it may be supposed that he is no longer existant, if ever he did exist. She certainly acts as if she has no husband--her time on Sunday is her own, rather than being spent with a husband. She doesn't tell her friends about what she does, either: "My friends suppose I am a dressmaker, who goes out by the day or week...."
It may be that I am a widow working for my children--or I may be an unmarried woman, whose only care is herself.
"G" writes her narrative partly to tell of her exploits but also to justify the trade of detective, which by her lights is not well regarded, and to justify the role of the female detective:
I may as well at once say I write in order to show, in a small way, that the profession to which I belong is so useful that it should not be despised. I know well that my trade is despised....The stories, set in the 1850s, are very much about the street and common person. "G" is a consulting detective, but she does not cater to the upper classes, as Andrew Forrester, Jr. did. Her clients are from the lower and middle classes. The crimes and criminals she deals with are similarly lower- and middle-class-oriented: the selling and buying of children, cunning child swindlers, murderers, roues, and so on. "G" has a good heart and is quite willing to help the innocent wrongly accused. And she's very conscious of the place of women in Victorian society, and the disadvantages under which they labored.
I am aware that the female detective may be regarded with even more aversion than her brother in profession. But still it cannot be disproved that if there is a demand for men detectives there must also be one for female detective police spies. Criminals are both masculine and feminine--indeed, my experience tells me that when a woman becomes a criminal she is far worse than the average of her male companions, and therefore it follows that the necessary detectives should be of both sexes.
"G" is a good detective. She's street-oriented, and is aware of some of the unpleasant aspects of Victorian life, things which didn't make it into the more genteel mystery stories; in one story "G" wearily and cynically muses about the fact of women selling their children, and how common it is in London. Her approach toward crime-solving is more thoughtful than many of the casebook detectives. She favors a logical, deductive approach: "weigh the facts...trace out clear meanings," find the questions which will help solve the crime and then find the answers. At another moment she says that "it may be said the value of the detective lies not so much in discovering facts, as in putting them together, and finding out what they mean." She uses information resources to good effect, for example using brith and death registers to narrow down her list of suspects. She makes use of informants whenever possible, but more often simply talks to people who don't know that she's a detective and makes use of the information she gathers that way: "I may say that half the success of a detective depends upon his or her sympathy with the people from whom either is endeavouring to pick up information." But "G" is also trained in more modern police work, especially in the identification of suspects through "certain marks" and "personal peculiarities," such as "speech-imperfections," which a criminal can't ever change, though he can change his dress, his voice, and his appearance.
"G" is a consulting detective, as mentioned, and so is free to take whatever cases she wants for as long as she wants and to go wherever she wants. She relocates to the north of London on one case, leaving her life in London behind. "G" does consult with the police, calling on them for help with her cases and in turn being viewed by them as a valuable asset. There's none of the Holmes-Lestrade rivalry and contempt here; "G" respects the police for what they do, and they respect her for what she does. Which isn't to say that she believes them flawless; indeed, she says that "I venture to assert that the detective forces as a body are weak; that they fail in the majority of the cases brought under their supervision...." But she respects the individual police she deals with for what they do and what they try to do.
Finally, I was pleased to see that "The Judgment of Conscience," which featured a "Hebrew" soldier as the murder victim, was in every respect free of anti-Semitism. A fair treatment of Jews in Victorian detective stories is quite rare.
arcilaso. Garcilaso was created by J. Breckenridge Ellis and appeared in Garcilaso (1901). Ellis (1870-1901) wrote 26 books, many of them historical romances like Garcilaso, and was a longtime president of the Missouri Writers Guild. Garcilaso is a charming little novel about Garcilaso de la Vega, Lord of Bartas, a Spanish chevalier fighting against the Moors in the early 1490s, during the years of Isabella and Ferdinand. Garcilaso is a memoir of the high points of Garcilaso's youth. He is a noted knight, having saved the life of the king himself as well as performed other brave feats in the war against the Moors. Unfortunately, he aches for love, feeling its absence keenly. His best friend Lady Margaret Guzman, who may have feelings for Garcilaso herself, decides to set him up with her friend Petonilla Fontane. Garcilaso is instantly smitten with Petonilla. Unfortunately, she does not instantly reciprocate, so he tries to prove himself to her. But he discovers that she is not a proper Catholic, but rather a Vaudois, which to his eyes makes her an apostate. He spurns her, but still loves her, and so when his best friend Herbert Klein, a German knight whose life Garcilaso had earlier saved, rescues Petonilla, Garcilaso bids them farewell. This earns Garcilaso the displeasure of the Holy Office of the Inquisition--he assisted in the escape of a heretic from the auto da fé--and so Garcilaso is imprisoned and tortured. Proud as always, he refuses to reveal who rescued Petonilla, despite repeated tortures. Garcilaso, in prison, meets a Jew he had formerly turned over to the Inquisition (who by plot device is the adopted father of Petonilla), and they become friends, and Garcilaso begins to change and mature. Garcilaso is finally marching toward the auto da fé when he is rescued by a group of his fellow knights, Herbert Klein, and Petonilla. Garcilaso recovers, but has to leave, since the Inquisition is still after him. So Garcilaso enlists with Columbus, and helps discover the New World. Garcilaso eventually realizes that he really loves Lady Margaret, and so returns to Spain. She takes him, and they live Happily Ever After.
A recitation of the plot does not really convey what's so charming about Garcilaso, however. The romance is nicely handled; the relationships are natural and not forced, and Garcilaso's marriage to and happiness with Lady Margaret is earned through his suffering and maturation, rather than simply given to him as his due as the novel's hero. The narrative style and rhetoric of the novel is old-fashioned--but not outdated; Ellis is of the Stanley Weyman school of writing, where understatement and pith replace the fustian and bombast of a Hugo or Scott. Of course, the novel has all the enjoyable trappings of any swashbuckler of the Middle Ages, including knightly duels, with both Moors and Spaniards treating each other chivalrously and being concerned with honour, and enough swordplay and derring do to satisfy any fan of Dumas. But the novel has further virtues, one of which is its sense of humor. There is wit, of course, with Garcilaso, as narrator and character, getting off some good lines, but there is also humor at Garcilaso's expense. He's not too bright, and the reader enjoys a number of chuckles at his expense as his pride and stubbornness lead him to rash and stupid statements and acts. A typical moment, for Garcilaso:
For if I have one quality of which I am more proud than another, it is my modesty; and scorning to sprinkle my pages with the pronoun "I," Garcilaso will often speak of himself as if he were another.It's no accident that Garcilaso so quickly reverts to using "I" after scorning it.
It was a clear, bright evening in June, and the year was 1491. Leaving Herbert Klein in my tent, I sought the pavilions occupied by the ladies of Queen Isabella.
For all the novel's humor, however, it is essentially a serious novel (Weyman's work is essentially light-hearted; Garcilaso is not), and while the plot is concerned with romance the novel, and Ellis himself, is concerned with the moral of religious tolerance. Garcilaso is a strident, inflexible, humorless Catholic, lacking any mercy toward "heretics," but his own words and deeds early in the novel damn him and his pre-Lutheran, Inquisitional Catholicism in the eyes of the modern reader, to whom the torture and burning of Jews and non-Catholics are not likely to be amusing. This is deliberate on Ellis' case, of course. Garcilaso is the protagonist of the novel, but at its start he is no hero. That changes once he is exposed to the mercies of the Inquisition's torturers, and meanwhile the reader has seen all too vividly the brutality and mercilessness of the Spanish Church. The values we cherish, including tolerance and a celebration of diversity, are the exact opposite of Garcilaso's, but are the values of Herbert Klein and Petonilla, who Garcilaso repeatedly scorns. But life deals him harsh blows, and eventually he changes.
Garcilaso begins as very proud (even cocky), haughty, ferociously touchy and willing to fight over the slightest provocation. He lacks any sense of humor, seeing it as something to despise. His dignity is such that he will duel anyone he thinks has besmirched it. He values honor over anything else, and while this has its good side (he refuses to betray Herbert despite repeated tortures) its bad side is also seen (he is willing to kill a friend who has said something he finds offensive to his honor). He is boastful, being very impressed with his own knightly deeds (which are, it should be said, impressive). But life, and torture, change him, and while he remains proud his stiff neck bends someone and he learns something of tolerance, if not compassion. Through it all he remains an excellent swordsman and knight.
I may not have done Garcilaso justice, but don't just take my word for it. Go and find this novel and read it. It's good.
ardie, Count Magnus de la. Count Magnus de la Gardie was created by M.R. James and appeared in “Count Magnus" (composed in 1901-2, published in Ghost Stories of an Antiquary in 1904). James (1862-1936) is a giant of supernatural fiction; I have some information on him in the Demon of the Night entry. “Count Magnus” is a more straightforward story than “Canon Alberic’s Scrap-Book,” but is still very enjoyable and not a little creepy.
The narrator of “Count Magnus” describes the contents of some papers he came into the possession of. They describe how a Mr. Wraxall, about which the narrator has been able to find little, decided to write a travelogue about Sweden, Wraxall living during the years when relatively little was known about Scandinavia. So Wraxall gets letters of introduction to various “persons of quality” and travels to Sweden. During his visit to the “scion of the great house of De la Gardie” Wraxall visits the church near the manor house as well as the mausoleum next to the church. The mausoleum is the resting place of Count Magnus de la Gardie, the first de la Gardie; he was, in his time, a widely-feared man who put down a peasant uprising with no mercy. A portrait of Count Magnus shows him to be a powerful if remarkably ugly man. Wraxall speaks with his landlord about Magnus; he is told that the Count was not well-remembered, that during his own time he was a terror to his neighbors, and that he was even reported to have gone on a Black Pilgrimage, although what that was, the landlord will not say. Wraxall goes through some of the manor-house’s papers and finds one of Magnus’ books, containing tracts on alchemy and other subjects. Wraxall is unfamiliar with alchemy and so skims through it, but he finds a leaf in the hand of Magnus himself, entitled “Liber nigrae peregrinations.” In English is written a line about obtaining long life by visiting the prince of the air. This casts Magnus in a picturesque air, to Wraxall, and when next he walks by the mausoleum he says out loud, “Ah, Count Magnus, there you are. I should dearly like to see you.” Wraxall hears a metallic clang from inside the church–just a cleaning woman dropping something, surely. Wraxall asks the landlord of the inn at which he is staying about the Black Pilgrimage, and is told a story about two men, in the time of the landlord’s grandfather, who went hunting in the Count’s woods. (He was long dead, after all, and what was the harm of it?) The night they went hunting screams were heard from the woods, and then, from farther off, laughter from someone not a man at all. One of the men is found alive, but trying to push something away from him, something that is not there. The other man is found dead, the flesh of his face sucked away from his bones.
The next day Wraxall sees the key to the mausoleum hanging by the church pulpit. Wraxall decides that there’s no harm in visiting the mausoleum by himself, and so goes in. He finds a full-length effigy of Magnus, around the edge of which there are various scenes from Magnus’ life. In one a man is shown running away from another figure, a very short man (?) covered by a hooded garment; the only part of the man’s body which can be seen is “not shaped like any hard or arm. Mr. Wraxall compares it to the tentacle of a devil-fish.” Looking at the scene is a cloaked man on a nearby hillock, leaning on a stick. Wraxall also notices that one of the three steel padlocks which secure Magnus’ sarcophagus is open and lying on the floor. Walking back from the mausoleum Wraxall loses track of where is his and comes back to himself at the churchyard gate where he is “singing or chanting some such words as, ‘Are you awake, Count Magnus? Are you asleep, Count Magnus?’ and then something more which I have failed to recollect. It seemed to me that I must have been behaving in this nonsensical way for some time.” Wraxall spends most of the day going through the papers; on the way back to the inn he sees that two of the padlocks from the Count’s sarcophagus are loose. The following day is Wraxall’s last there, and as he mentally says his farewells to the area he decides that he must say goodbye to Count Magnus. He lets himself into the mausoleum and says, “You may have been a bit of a rascal in your time, Magnus, but for all that I should like to see you, or, rather–“
Just at that instant I felt a blow on my foot. Hastily enough I drew it back, and something fell on the pavement with a clash. It was the third, the last of the three padlocks which had fastened the sarcophagus. I stopped to pick it up, and–Heaven is my witness that I am writing only the bare truth–before I had raised myself there was a sound of metal hinges creaking, and I distinctly saw the lid shifting upwards. I may have behaved like a coward, but I could not for my life stay for one moment. I was outside that dreadful building in less time than I can write–almost as quickly as I could have said–the words; and what frightens me yet more, I could not turn the key in the lock. As I sit here in my room noting these facts, I ask myself (it was not twenty minutes ago) whether that noise of creaking metal continued, and I cannot tell whether it did or not. I only know that there was something more than I have written that alarmed me, but whether it was sound or sight I am not able to remember. What is this that I have done?The narrator then describes the contents of Mr. Wraxall’s travel notebook. Wraxall is, “from his changed hand and inconsequent jotting, a broken man,” and he takes notes on his fellow travelers on a trip on a canal boat. “Twenty-eight people appear in the enumeration, one being always a man in a long black cloak and broad hat, and the other a ‘short figure in dark cloak and hood.’” On reaching England Wraxall acted like he was being pursued, and fled in a closed carriage. Passing by one cross-road he sees the two figures standing motionless. At his destination, a small village, he stays for a day, writing his last notes about the visit he expects from his pursuers. That night he is found dead, and his body is such that “the jury that viewed the body fainted, seven of ‘em did, and none of ‘em wouldn’t speak to what they see, and the verdict was visitation of God.”
“Count Magnus” is another fine story from M.R. James. I said at the beginning of this entry that I found the story more straightforward than “Canon Alberic’s Scrap-Book.” I think it is; the premise of the story is obvious almost from the beginning. The story is fairly predictable, in a way that “Canon Alberic’s Scrap-Book” was not but “Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad” (see the Professor Parkins entry) was. Predictable, in this case, does not mean unenjoyable, however. “Count Magnus” is enjoyable not so much for its premise as the ideas displayed in the story and the way in which James executes the story’s premise–and, of course, James’ style, which is as enjoyable here as it is in James’ other stories. The method in which Magnus returns, the warnings Wraxall ignores, the deliciously evil hints about Magnus’ personality and history, the frightening implications of Wraxall’s words to Magnus’ sarcophagus, the oncoming doom so clear to the reader but to which Wraxall is oblivious–these are all aspects of what redeem the relatively simple plot and make “Count Magnus” so effective. James’ style works superbly well here; he describes the horrors in an indirect fashion, so that we’re not sure what emerged from the crypt or what that short figure really is or what Wraxall’s face, in death, looked like, but we are sure that they’re creepy and that we don’t want to know any more. James has a knack for coining precise and chilling phrases; the short figure’s appendage, which isn’t so much an arm or hand as “the tentacle of a devil-fish,” implies whole vistas of horror. James’ avoidance of first person narration, so that we read the story as it is summarized from written notes, somewhat takes away from the immediacy and visceral terror of the story, but the timely excerpts deliver more than enough chills.
Count Magnus is a buttercup. During the peasant rebellion he executed ringleaders and inflicted “severe punishments...with no sparing hand.” He burnt down the houses of men whose lands encroached on Magnus’ domain; the men and their families died in the fire. Tenants who came late to their work on the days which they owed to him were flogged and branded. He was a practicing alchemist and magician who went to the village of Chorazin (“Can you tell me anything about Chorazin?” “I have heard some of our old priests say that Antichrist is to be born there....”). There’s the story about the poachers. And then there’s the Black Pilgrimage....
Even with the obvious premise, “Count Magnus” is still outstanding work.
aruda Stone. The Garuda Stone appeared in Vice Versa (1882) by "F. Anstey," aka Thomas Anstey Guthrie (1856-1934; for more biographical information on him, look in the Jinnee entry). Guthrie's comedic touch, so enjoyable in the Brass Bottle, seems to have deserted him in Vice Versa. The book was Guthrie's first, so it might be that his skill increased as time went by. Or perhaps tastes have changed enough so that I'm incapable of appreciating the comedy of over a century ago. Either way, this lumbering, clumsy, obvious work has little to recommend it in the way of humor. The story itself, I will freely concede, is not without its qualities; the opening sequence between the father and son incapable of communicating with or understanding each other is almost literally painful to read--anyone who has felt that gap between father and son will wince and suffer sympathetic pains while reading it. The passages at the boarding school, while not being as immediately painful to American readers, is, I'm informed, far too close for comfort for English readers; C.S. Lewis said that "the book communicates, better than any realistic novel, the dreadful experience of leaving a snug middle-class home for the horrors of an English boarding school." (Trollope died from a stroke brought on by laughing too hard at Vice Versa; the symbolism and appropriateness, or lack of same, of this death I leave to you to comment on)
The plot will be a familiar one to modern viewers who've seen "Freaky Friday" or the 1988 Judge Reinhold film "Vice Versa:" a father and son switch places and bodies, this time via the Garuda Stone, an "insignificant-looking little square tablet of grayish-green stone, pierced at one angle, and having on two of its faces faint traces of mysterious letters or symbols, which time had made very difficult to distinguish." The overbearing Paul Bultitude, Esq., makes the mistake of holding the Stone and saying to his son Dick that "I only wish, at this very moment, I could be a boy again, like you. Going back to school wouldn't make me unhappy, I can tell you." This turns Paul into an exact duplicate of Dick. Dick then holds the Stone and wishes to look like his father, and is granted his wish.
The predictable wackiness ensues, of course, with ham-handed "comedy" and telegraphed jokes following. The book, as I said, is not to be recommended for its humor. It is excruciating, though, in its description of how awful English boarding schools of the 1880s were (the story takes place in the later winter and early spring of 1881), and if you can stomach over two hundred pages of youthful misery, you might enjoy the book. (Paul is forced to go back to school, to suffer under the awful Dr. Grimstone, Headmaster, while Dick gallivants about, enjoying the privileges of being a wealthy bourgeois)
The story ends with Paul's youngest son grasping the Garuda Stone and wishing that his father and son were back the way they used to be ("Papa and buzzy Dicky back again as--as they were before"--ugh, ugh, ugh. How precious, how twee, how hard to stomach), and both--of course--gaining insight into the other's condition, and growing closer thereby. (I will say that Guthrie does not make the ending unrealistically happy; the reputations of both Paul and Dick suffer because of what the other had done while looking like the other. But they become much happier as a family because of what happened)
eister, Carl. Carl Geister was created by “Chrysostom Trueman” and appeared in The History of a Voyage to the Moon, with an Account of the Adventurers' Subsequent Discoveries. An Exhumed Narrative, Supposed to Have Been Ejected from a Lunar Volcano (1864). “Chrysostom Trueman” is the pseudonym of an unknown British author. The History of a Voyage to the Moon is, as the title indicates, an early (if uninfluential) work of science fiction.
The narrator of The History of a Voyage to the Moon is Stephen Howard, a Brit who meets Carl Geister at the University of Gottingen in the 1850s. The pair hit it off immediately; Howard thinks highly of Geister and is attracted to him, and Geister finds Howard amenable as a friend. After they graduate from Gottingen they travel to Spain, where Geister, doing research in old Church archives, reads the account of a Spanish priest who, in the 16th century, saw the “earth rising” in the Colorado Rockies. This inspires Geister, who has always had a dream of traveling into space, and he goes to the Rockies to find the source of the “rising.” He sends a letter back to Howard, telling him of his success. Geister is scornful of the crudeness and lack of culture of the Coloradan natives, but he takes some natives with him as guides and miners, and with their help (and by following the directions of the priest’s narrative) he locates the natural elements which when mixed together create what he calls Repellante, an anti-gravity element. Iron is impervious to Repellante, which is good, because that will allow Geister to manipulate Repellante and pilot a ship into space. Geister meets up with Howard and the pair go to Arkansas, where they meet Butler, an eccentric Quaker inventor who takes Geister’s designs for an airtight building-sized ship, “The Terrinsula,” and makes it a reality. Howard and Geister spend a month inside The Terrinsula, testing its airtightness and its flight capabilities, and then the pair return to the Rockies to gather more of the elements needed to create Repellante. They fight off an attack by the Apache, make more Repellante, and then have Howard create a smaller ship, the “Lunaviot.”
Geister and Howard pilot the Lunaviot to the moon, but are forced into a crash-landing. They find that the moon has a breathable atmosphere, and even more luckily that the moon has enough water for them. (They brought months’ worth of food but little water). They find fruit-bearing trees and then watch some natives gather around the trees and hold what seems to be a religious ceremony. The natives are similar to humans in most respects but only 4' tall. Both Geister and Howard are struck by the innocent goodness of the natives, and so they make first contact, which goes peacefully, although they have to communicate by pantomime. Geister and Howard go to the natives’ village, Notol (also the name of the natives) and stay there for a whole year. They learn the language and get to the know the natives, and they become convinced that what they have found is a true utopia. They learn about the Notol belief that they are reincarnated Earthlings, though lacking in memories of Earth. There’s no evidence to support this, but Geister and Howard meet Zilgah, the Notol Administrator of the Records, and Zilgah shows them the written history of Notol, which was founded and formed from barbarity “several epochs ago.” Geister and Howard fly around the moon on the roc-like Egastos and meet various Notol poets and philosophers. Geister and Howard are perfectly happy and decide that they must get word to Earth about the utopia on the moon, and so they inscribe their story on some metal tablets which they enclose in a meteor, which is then sent to Earth via a lunar volcanic explosion.
As an early work of science fiction, The History of a Voyage to the Moon is of some small interest. Whether or not works like The History of a Voyage to the Moon are science fiction has been tossed around by sf critics for a few decades now. There are critics who feel that pre-Vernean works of scientific imagination cannot be called science fiction simply because there was no coherent genre in which to write these stories. As far as that goes, it’s true, but there was certainly a consciousness on the part of the writers of what they were writing; they may not have had a word or phrase for it, but they knew they were writing stories within the same general vein as other, previous stories. This can be seen in the dime novels, where the story of Johnny Brainerd and his man-shaped steam engine spawned imitators and eventually an entire genre of technothriller Edisonade characters, from Electric Bob to Frank Reade to Tom Edison, Jr. And this genre creation by imitation can also be seen in the Trip To The Moon stories like The History of a Voyage to the Moon.
“Trueman” wasn’t doing anything particularly original in The History of a Voyage to the Moon. The novel is an updated version of the French voyages imaginaires of the 17th and 18th century, many of which dealt with travel to other worlds, and some, like Charles Sorel’s Recit du Voyage de Brisevent (Tale of Brisevent’s Journey, 1642) and Cyrano de Bergerac’s Histoire Comique des Etats et Empires de la Lune (Comical History of the States and Empires of the Moon, 1657), described utopian societies on the moon. There were several stories of flight into space and to the moon written in the 19th century before Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon (1865), including J. L. Riddell’s Orrin Lindsay’s Plan of Aerial Navigation (1847), which featured a scientist creating an anti-gravity field through subjecting an amalgam of mercury and steel to a strong magnetic field, and taking a spherical craft, propelled by this field, to the moon. “Trueman” was working in this vein. He (or she, what the hell) may not have been able to articulate what he was writing, but he was aware of the nameless genre he was working in.
The difference between Verne and pre-Verneans like “Trueman” (and The History of a Voyage to the Moon only predated From the Earth to the Moon by a year) is that the pre-Verneans wrote techno-fantasies, in which the science of the story is not described at all, or is done through authorial hand-waving. Verne wrote the equivalent of hard science fiction; his science was as accurate and realistic as he could make it. That was more than writers like “Trueman” managed.
As prose The History of a Voyage to the Moon is only serviceable. “Trueman” takes a very long time to progress beyond establishing the premise of the novel; 80 pages pass before the Lunaviot takes off. There’s little action to the novel, really, and the characterization is one-dimensional. Most of the novel is filled up with long, speechifying monologues, usually Geister’s, science lectures in the form of dialogue, endless, rambling holdings forth on philosophy, life after death, Nature’s meaning, and the soul. “Trueman” no doubt thought his words insightful and deep; the modern reader is likely to find them less so. Finally, there’s a scene of racist ugliness involving several black grooms speaking in atrocious, stereotypical dialogue.
Geister is 30 and independently wealthy. In Howard’s words, Geister has “admirable moral character” and is a “leading spirit” whose “advanced opinions and unique manner of thought and observation” repel most other men. What we see of him in The History of a Voyage to the Moon is somewhat different, however. Others are turned off by him only because of his radical ideas, rather than his personality. He’s sure he’s right about most things, but he is not overbearing about his opinions. He’s adventurous, quite willing to risk his life in the trip to the moon. He’s idealistic, not just about the Notol but about the justice, humanity, and many other philosophical questions. He’s science-oriented, good at theory and invention. And, differently from other, similar characters in Victorian sf, when Geister finds an alien Utopia he enjoys it and appreciates it. He’s not the worm in the bud, but a grateful visitor who wants to stay and enjoy what he’s found.
eorges, Georges St.. Georges, Georges St. Georges St. Georges was created by John Bloundelle-Burton and appeared in In The Day of Adversity (1895). John Edward Bloundelle-Burton (1850-1917) was a British writer of historical dramas; he wrote often and well, but he’s now mostly forgotten. In the Day of Adversity is a typically good effort by him.
In 1687 Georges St. Georges is a member of Louis XIV Chevau-Léger, the King’s mounted cavalry. He has been recalled to Paris by direct order of the King, and so he begins riding back, accompanied by his infant daughter Dorine. His wife has recently died, and St. Georges is still mourning. Moreover, he suspects that his parentage is not humble, as he grew up believing, but that he is from more exalted lineage–that he is, in fact, the illegitimate son of the honored and wealthy Duc de Vannes. The King’s letter ordering his return specified that he stop at the home of the Marquis Phélypeaux, the Bishop of Lodève, which he does, but not before leaving his daughter at a nearby inn–St. Georges has reason to believe that both he and his daughter (who is, after all, from the same lineage as he) are in danger. The Bishop, an unpleasant man, gives St. Georges a message to carry to the King. St. Georges collects his daughter and then accepts the offer of companionship from Boussac, a musketeer he meets at the inn. They ride together, and a friendship grows between them. But they are followed by a group of men, and when the pair fight off the attackers both men notice that the attackers were trying to kidnap or kill Dorine, thus confirming St. Georges’ suspicions to both himself and to Boussac, who St. Georges confided in. St. Georges and Boussac do not capture the leader of the men, however, who was wearing an antique morion which completely concealed his face. They part, Boussac joining his regiment, and St. Georges continues, as the King’s letter dictates, on to the manor of the de Roquemaure family, whose son, when he reaches his majority, will inherit the de Vannes fortune–and who St. Georges comes to suspect was behind the attack on himself, Boussac, and Dorine. St. Georges again leaves Dorine with a trustworthy girl in an inn near the de Roquemaure house and then meets with the Marquise de Roquemaure (the Duc de Vannes’ love, when both were young) and her fetching daughter Aurélie. They hit it off, or so St. Georges thinks, but the following morning he is awoken and told that Dorine has been stolen. St. Georges, who thinks of little except his child, is heartbroken, and searches in vain for her. He arrives in Paris, as he was ordered, but late, and when he meets Louvois, the sinister and cruel Minister of War, the meeting goes badly. Accusations and insults are exchanged, Louvois shows St. Georges a letter, signed by the King, firing him from the Army and ordering him to leave France immediately. St. Georges tells Louvois that he knows that Louvois is implied in the conspiracy to kidnap Dorine, tells Louvois that he intends to see the King tonight and explain everything to him, and threatens to kill Louvois if he tries to prevent St. Georges from seeing the King. St. Georges rides for Marly, where the King is staying, but on the way he encounters Raoul de Roquemaure, in the company of his mistress. St. Georges provokes a duel, insulting the woman along the way, and escorts the pair into a nearby inn so that they may fight in private. St. Georges and de Roquemaure fight and St. Georges is on the verge of running de Roquemaure through when the woman stabs St. Georges in the back. St. Georges is sent to a galley (yes, there were such things as late as 1687), where he spends two years. His ship is sunk by an English ship, but St. Georges is rescued by the English captain, who sees that St. Georges is a gentleman despite his awful condition. St. Georges returns to England with the captain and lives there for two years, eking out a living by gardening, translating, and teaching the sword. Finally the time comes for the English to attack the French, and St. Georges is part of the Battle of Le Hogue, helping to sink French ships. During the battle he finds a dying Raoul de Roquemaure, who tells him that his half-sister Aurélie is the one who has been holding Dorine all these years. St. Georges watches him die and then makes his way back to France. St. Georges intends to track down Aurélie de Roquemaure and rescue Dorine, but the presence of the fleur-de-lis brand on his shoulder, which all criminals bear, gives him away as a criminal, and he is pursued on the road by the military. Finally he is captured and put on trial. He honorably admits all, deciding to die in obscurity rather than drag his daughter into his shame. As a traitor he is sentenced not just to die but to be broken on the wheel, but the night before his execution he is freed and pardoned by order of the King. He finds out that Aurélie de Roquemaure, who he has been blaming for years, was responsible (with the help of Boussac) for persuading the King to free him, and that she has been raising Dorine as her own daughter, and that she has forfeited all right to the de Vannes fortune. They marry and move to England and live happily ever after.
In the Day of Adversity is quite entertaining. During the years of his greatest output Bloundelle-Burton was compared not only with Stanley Weyman (see the Duc de Sully entry) but also with Robert Louis Stevenson (see the David Balfour entry) and with H. Rider Haggard (see the Allan Quatermain entry), and it’s clear to see, reading In the Day of Adversity, why Bloundelle-Burton was so highly considered. The combination of atmosphere and historical detail is very good. Throughout the novel Bloundelle-Burton convincingly conjures up the feel of ancien régime France, from rural, wintry Burgundy to Paris sweltering under the summer sun, from the court of Louis XIV to the country estates of oppressive nobles. Bloundelle-Burton’s descriptions of environment and setting are good, and his depictions of historical politics and manners has the feel of veracity. The characterization and dialogue are both well done, the plot paced properly briskly, Bloundelle-Burton throws in a few surprising plot twists, and the novel does not require overwhelming amounts of historical knowledge on the reader’s part to enjoy it.
The novel only has two flaws, one minor and one serious. The minor flaw is Bloundelle-Burton’s tendency to put plot recaps in monologue form, which ruins the naturalistic feel of the dialogue. (Expository monologue like that irritates me, although others’ tolerance for it is, I admit, greater than my own). The more serious flaw is the major difference between Bloundelle-Burton and Stanley Weyman & Baroness Orczy: the sense of fun. The best work of Weyman and Orczy have a joie de vivre to them, a sense of joy and humor and wit, which is lacking in In the Day of Adversity. This is deliberate on Bloundelle-Burton’s part, I think. St. Georges’ is a more serious character, in a more emotionally dramatic predicament, and so it’s natural that he will lack the wit and joy of the Duc de Sully or the Scarlet Pimpernel. And the setting of In the Day of Adversity is, if not grim, less inclined to humor and light-heartedness than the better work of Weyman and Orczy. And it’s a mistake (though common enough, God knows) to criticize a work because it wasn’t written in the way that you (which is to say, the critic, or me) would have written it. Yes, yes, all true. Even so, the lack of humor and the absence of the sense of fun which is evident in From the Memoirs of a Minister of France renders In the Day of Adversity less purely enjoyable to read, if not significantly poorer in quality.
Georges St. Georges is somewhat different as the hero of a swashbuckling historical romance. He’s good with his sword, as most such heroes are, and he is a patriot and a loyal subject of the King. But his patriotism is not blind, and when France (and the King) turns its back on him, he becomes a citizen of and soldier for France’s enemy. St. Georges is older than most swashbucklers, and has suffered things, such as the too quick death of his beloved wife, which most other swashbucklers have not suffered. Those, and the setbacks and reversals he undergoes during In the Day of Adversity, make St. Georges a sadder and more sober character than many other swashbucklers. He’s scared, too, for his child, and this aspect of the anxious father is unusual and welcome. Finally, St. Georges is assured of his cause–his love for his daughter justifies what he does–but is otherwise actually relatively humble, quite the opposite of many of the cocksure swashbucklers.
erard, Étienne. Brigadier Étienne Gerard was created by A. Conan Doyle and appeared in seventeen stories, beginning with “How the Brigadier Won His Metal” (Strand, Dec. 1894); the stories were collected in three books. Doyle, of course, will be familiar to you through his Sherlock Holmes stories. What is less well known about him, though, is that he wrote a number of historical romances, including Micah Clarke and The White Company (see the Nigel Loring entry), and that it was his historical novels, rather than his mysteries, of which he was most proud and which he hoped he would be remembered for. He was disappointed in that, but his historical romances are not completely forgotten.
The Brigadier Gerard stories are set during the later Napoleonic years, from 1807, when Gerard meets Napoleon for the first time, until 1821, when the Emperor dies. Gerard himself is a member of the Emperor’s 10th Hussars and is quite proud to serve under Napoleon, despite the fact that, like the rest of the Grande Armée, Gerard is afraid of Napoleon. (Doyle portrays the Corsican dwarf as a cold, hard man whose smiles never reach his eyes. It’s quite believable, reading Doyle’s work, that this Napoleon could win as much of Europe as he did). Decades after Napoleon’s death Gerard continues to boast about his service and to no doubt bore his friends and acquaintances with his war stories:
You do very well, my friends, to treat me with some little reverence, for in honouring me you are honouring both France and yourselves. It is not merely an old, grey-moustached officer whom you see eating his omelette or draining his glass, but it is a fragment of history. In me you see one of the last of those wonderful men, the men who were veterans when they were yet boys, who learned to use a sword earlier than a razor, and who during a hundred battles had never once let the enemy see the colour of their knapsacks.In this passage Gerard sounds not a little vain, which is because he is not just a little vain, but quite remarkably so. In fairness to him, he’s nearly as good a swordsman, cavalry officer, and rider as he thinks he is, and his exploits do much to justify his impression of himself. Gerard fights any number of duels, carries out the Emperor’s intrigues, escapes from Dartmoor prison and the clutches of a ruthless Spanish bandit, captures Saragossa single-handedly, woos any number of women, befriends English officers, and in general has a fine old time adventuring his way across Europe and Russia. Gerard isn’t particularly bright, but he’s clever, and so is usually able to get himself out of the difficult situations his ego or occasional gullibility has placed him into.
The Brigadier Gerard stories are fine historical tales. If you’ve a taste for egotistical adventurers (and the influence of Gerard on George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman stories is clear), then you’ll love the Gerard stories. If you don’t like egotistical adventurers, then you’ll enjoy the stories anyhow, for their good humor and for the easy way Doyle has of conjuring up the Napoleonic years.
erbert. This fictional Gerbert was created by Richard Garnett and appeared in “The Demon Pope” (The Twilight of the Gods and Other Tales, 1888). Garnett (1835-1906) was a librarian with the British Museum, a scholar, and an author. “The Demon Pope” is a wry, entertaining story about Gerbert, the legendary demon Pope.
One day in the 10th century the devil approaches a student and offers to buy his soul in exchange for a few extra decades of life. Unfortunately for the devil, he’s dealing with Gerbert, who isn’t willing to sell his soul for any amount of extra life. The devil is finally forced to settle for giving Gerbert worldly success for the next 40 years in exchange for a boon 40 years hence. (Of course, if Gerbert does not grant the boon, off he goes to Hell, but the devil promises that the boon will be “not your soul, mind, or anything not perfectly in your power to grant.” Gerbert, not seeing much downside to this deal, accepts. 40 years pass, and Gerbert advances, first to the Abbacy of Bobbio, and from there to bishop, archbishop, cardinal, and finally Pope. The devil reappears, and he and Gerbert have a genial conversation. The devil wants to be made a cardinal, something Gerbert is not willing to agree to. (Lucifer, you see, wants to extirpate heresy, “and all learning and knowledge as inevitably tending thereto,” and that’s something Gerbert, a friend of intellectual inquiry, cannot allow). Gerbert makes a counteroffer, one that Lucifer is happy to accept: Lucifer can be Pope for twelve hours, and at the end of those twelve hours, if he’s not “more anxious to divest yourself of the Papal dignity than you were to assume it, I promise to bestow upon you any boon you may ask within my power to grant, and not plainly inconsistent with religion or morals.” Lucifer takes on Gerbert’s body and assumes the Papacy but quickly discovers that it’s not what he’d hoped for. The cardinals attack him for talking Arabic, reading Hebrew, and other such things which sorcerers do. The cardinals wrap him up and then begin investigating him for signs of his infernal compact. Of course, they find a cloven hoof, which the devil carries with him always. This discovery stuns the cardinals, and they quickly change their minds and stash him in a dungeon, which is quite cold and dark, something the devil finds very unpleasant. Each of the cardinals visit him and attempt to flatter him, persuade him that they are faithful followers of his, position themselves for the Papacy once the current occupant passes on, and betray their fellows. Finally the twelve hours pass and Lucifer switches places with Gerbert, but not before imprisoning the cardinals in the dungeon. Lucifer demands of Gerbert–he was owed a boon by Gerbert, remember–that the cardinals be released unharmed, as they are all quite sympathetic to the devil’s position. Gerbert agrees, although he is disappointed, having hoped that Lucifer would carry the cardinals off. The cardinals continue to think that Gerbert is Lucifer, until Gerbert institutes the policy of kissing the Pope’s foot, and Gerbert continues to carry out good works.
There was a real Gerbert, of course, Pope Sylvester II (c. 945-1003). Gerbert, a very learned Frenchman who was said to have studied in Moorish schools in Spain in his youth, before he became Pope. Gerbert was also said to have gained his great knowledge through magic means and an oracular brass head, and to have gained the Papacy through a deal with the Devil. “The Demon Pope” is Garnett’s fictional account of Gerbert's life, and it’s a very entertaining one. The tone of the story is light-hearted and ironic, with conversational dialogue and a subtextual authorial attitude which is witty rather than judgmental, shrill, and too serious, which is how earlier writers like Bulwer-Lytton or Le Fanu would have treated the subject. “The Demon Pope,” with its irony, erudition, and understatement, reads like one of the better stories from the 1920s or 1930s. It’s a kind of “deal with the devil” story, and as such may put off experienced readers, but it’s smart and fast-moving and quite entertaining and well worth reading.
Gerbert is smart, “clever and spirited,” as the devil says. Too clever by half, or so the devil thinks, but really Gerbert just knows better than the devil the negative aspects of being the Pope. Gerbert’s a gentleman, of course, and keeps his word, even to the devil, and Gerbert is devoted to intellectual freedom to the point that he would rather go to Hell than be an accessory to the burning of Plato and Aristotle. And Gerbert has a good, sneaky sense of humor. But mostly, he’s sneaky. Anyone who puts one over on the devil is not to be underestimated.
ertrude. Gertrude was created by Mary Elizabeth Braddon and appeared in “The Cold Embrace,” which appeared in Ralph the Bailiff (1862). Braddon is the creator of Joseph Peters, and I have some information on her there. “The Cold Embrace” is a nice little story about love and revenge. A young German artist, handsome, eloquent, and a firm believer in the high calling of Art, falls in love, for a short while, with his cousin Gertrude. “Did he lover her? Yes, when he first swore it. It soon wore out, this passionate love; how threadbare and wretched a sentiment it became at last in the selfish heart of the student.” And when he is in Florence working under a master, he is smitten with a model and so writes to Gertrude less and less and finally not at all. She needs the letters, though, for her father, not knowing of her relationship with the student, has arranged a marriage for her to a rich suitor. Gertrude writes to the student telling him of her upcoming marriage. On the eve of her wedding no letter from the student arrives. He has taken his time returning home to Brunswick, intending to arrive when the wedding was over, in time to saltue the bride. Instead he arrives just as Gertrude’s body is dragged from the river; she has drowned herself in despair. He flees Brunswick but discovers that whenever he is alone two cold arms wrap themselves around his neck and clasp their hands on his breast. “He tries never to be alone; he make a hundred acquaintances, and shares the chamber of another student.” It does no good, and the cold embrace always finds him when he is alone. Finally he succumbs to the caress of the cold arms and dances himself to death.
“The Cold Embrace” is regarded as one of the classic 19th century ghost stories, and it certainly has its virtues. If the plot is predictable–wronged woman haunts her heartless lover, we’ve seen this many times before–and the story not exactly frightening, it is still told well and relatively briskly, and Braddon manages to make the ending of the story, with the student’s descent into madness and death in the arms of ghostly Gertrude, suitably hallucinogenic.
Gertrude is sweet and trusting and innocent in the ways of men, which is why she falls victim to such a selfish and self-absorbed putz as the student. But when, early on, he vows that he would return from the dead to be with her, she wisely tells him that “it is only the suicide–the lost wretch on whom sorrowful angels shut the door of Paradise–whose unholy spirit haunts the footsteps of the living.” Even as a revenant, however, she only embraces the student, she does not throttle him–which is more restraint than I’d have shown.
ervaise, Jules. Jules Gervaise was created by "Hal Meredith" and appeared...well, therein lies a tale. "Hal Meredith," to begin with, was the pseudonym of Harry Blyth, a British writer of story paper stories. Blyth is best known as the creator of Sexton Blake, and I have a bit of biographical information on Blyth at that site. Gervaise, a French detective, first in the Blake stories, and in fact most of his appearances were in Blake stories in the Halfpenny Marvel in 1893 and 1894. However, not ever having seen a copy of Blake's first story, in "The Missing Millionaire" in Halfpenny Marvel #6, on 20 December 1893, I can't say for sure whether Gervaise appeared in Blake's first appearance or if he showed up in Blake's second or third story. He appeared at least once on his own, though, in Blyth's "The Accusing Shadow," Halfpenny Marvel v2 n48.
Gervaise was a French consulting detective in the Holmes/Blake vein. He is world-weary and sardonic and amused by life and people--a typical Frenchman, according to the stereotypes of the day. There's really not much more to say about him than that.
odahl, the Infallible. Godahl first appeared in "The Infallible Godahl" in the August 15th, 1913 issue of the Saturday Evening Post. He had five further appearances, which were collected into a book called The Adventures of the Infallible Godahl (1914). Now, admittedly, these are well past the years I've set as the limits for this site, and I've excluded many another character and concept for appearing after Her Royal Majesty's death, or for being too Edwardian in nature--as Godahl is--but I like the character and want to include him here. So he's in. (He was created by Frederick Irving Anderson (1877-1947), an American short story writer and journalist who created a number of memorable detective fiction characters, including the charming jewel thief Sophie Lang).
The Infallible Godahl is the criminal equivalent of Jacques Futrelle's Professor Augustus S.F.X. Van Dusen, "the Thinking Machine." Godahl takes a scientific approach to his jobs, using his acute intellect to thoroughly analyze every possibility and outcome for his actions and estimating them in terms of logic and probabilities. He always wins, not because of his wit, charm, and author's favoritism, as with Raffles, but because he is smarter than his opponents, most especially the good-natured but hopelessly-outmatched Deputy Parr of the New York City Police Department.
Godahl is so good at crime that he has never been suspected of anything, much less caught; the only person who knows of his tendencies is his Watson, the "extinct author" Oliver Armiston. (Just what that oft-applied label means is never explained, but it always struck a sinister chord in me) Godahl has only one personality flaw: his neurotic fear of those who've lost a sense. His belief is that the loss of one sense heightens the others, so that a deaf man or woman would see more perceptively than a normal person would, which might clue them in to Godahl's criminality.
Anderson's style, and the Godahl stories are good examples of this, are leisurely and well-crafted, quite the opposite of the snappy, punchy style favored at the time and thereafter. Anderson is a precise and intelligent writer whose stories reward a careful reading, and Godahl is an entertaining character whose author did well by him.
olden Bottle. The Golden Bottle appeared in Ignatius Donnelly's The Golden Bottle, or, The Story of Ephraim Benezet, of Kansas (1892), a book that, to borrow from dear Doro Parker, should not be put down but flung aside with great force. Donnelly (1831-1901), a lawyer (like so many other authors on this page), was a semi-successful writer (of Atlantis: The Antediluvian World and Ragnarok, among others) who moved to the West and became a Populist ideologue, Christian fanatic, and a conspiracy theorist. (He was also an anti-Semite, a class baiter, and the possessor of a number of...shall we say, off-beat ideas) (He was, I think, a complete nutter)
The Golden Bottle is the story of Ephraim Benezet of Butler County, Kansas. A simple farmer's son, he despairs of the poor condition of his family and his girlfriend, and when the Benezet family mortgage is going to be foreclosed he goes to his bed in the barn and prays for help. Lo and behold, an old man with a "benevolent and noble" appearance shows up, claiming to be "The Pity of God." He gives "Ephe" a "curious-looking embossed gold flask or bottle," which when opened, and a drop of the "clear, amber-colored liquid" inside the bottle is poured on an item, turns that item into gold.
And so, of course, Ephe (who shares his author's views on most everything) uses the gold to become rich and take over the world--all in the name of the working man and Christianity, of course. He begins by helping bankrupt and broke farmers pay off their mortgages and loans, then moves to New York City and begins trying to loan all the poor people of the United States money at 2% interest. Everywhere he goes, he attracts worshipful supporters--except from the cowardly and craven upper class and bankers. (Donnelly loads the moral and symbolic deck in support of Ephe and against those he dislikes to a truly stomach-turning degree). Ephe rescues his childhood sweetheart from poverty, and while she sets up a communal house for poor women he runs for President. The bankers are against this, for obvious reasons, and they buy off the newspapers to oppose Benezet's candidacy. Benezet, at the prompting of his wife, then buys the newspapers off, and the simplistic American people, played by Benezet, elected him President.
The rest of the Europe doesn't like this, so they declare war on the United States. Ephe quickly mobilizes and conquers first Canada, then Ireland, then England, Europe and finally Russia, always being met by adoring crowds and always freeing the poor from the evil upper classes. With that done--and in Ephe's mind Europe and Russia are the only places that count (too bad for Africa, Asia, and the Pacific islands)--he returns home...only to find that the entire thing was a dream. (Yeah, I'm shaking my head, too).
The prominent historian Richard Hofstadter has identified Donnelly with "the rebellion of the wheat and cotton farmers in the eighteen-eighties and eighteen-nineties against the collapsing prices of their crops on the international market." This revolt led to the formation of the Populist Party, which put a primacy on the position of the yeoman farmer in American society and was correspondingly hostile towards bankers and those they saw as aristocratic and oppressive. The Populists likewise saw civilization as irremediably corrupt, with America being sacred because it was close to, if not in, a state of nature, and Europe, the source of traditional civilization, being evil.
This is the context in which Donnelly was writing and from which he came. And Donnelly isn't technically a bad writer. But his book is filled with speechifying (as opposed to dialogue), he's morally and intellectually simplistic (the idea that someone who can turn things to gold could therefore become all-powerfully rich has enough holes to drive a jack-knifed semi-trailer through), his characters are self-righteous (and not in a good way), and on the whole The Golden Bottle took an hour from my life that I'm never getting back. If I could sue a dead man, I'd sue Donnelly.
othic Villains. As with a few other categories of characters on this site--the Chinese Heroes section, the French Heroes section--enough of the Gothic Villains are worthy of inclusion here but lacking in an essential distinctiveness, and so rather than give them each separate entries, which would perforce be lacking in details, I've gone with the overarching category of "Gothic Villain." The reason I'm not doing something similar with Gothic Heroes or Heroines is because most of them are frightful bores. Too, the Gothic Villain or Hero-Villain has a certain literary importance. The Gothic Hero-Villain served as the prototype for succeeding master villain characters, everyone from Professor Moriarty to Dr. No. The Hero-Villain was the evil-doer in the Gothics, but he was never purely evil. The Hero-Villain is always a paradoxical mix of passions and impulses which they know to be evil but cannot resist or overcome. The Gothic Hero-Villain has great intellectual and physical gifts and uses them for evil ends. He is attractive to the reader because of his passion and great capability as well as for his temptation and suffering, but is villainous because of his ultimate surrender to evil. The Gothic Hero-Villain is tormented by his own dark urges at the same time that he torments others. He is, in the words of Charles Maturin, one “who can apprehend the good, but is powerless to be it.” The Hero-Villain appeared in nearly all of the major Gothics, from Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764) to William Beckford’s Vathek (1786) to Matthew Lewis’ The Monk (1796) to Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer (1820), many of the minor Gothics, and a number of the significant post-Gothic novels, including Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1847). Most (but not all) of the Villains who appear in this list are Hero-Villains.
Arnaud appears in Joshua Pickersgill, Jr's The Three Brothers: A Romance (1803). Arnaud is one of three sons of the Marquis de Souvricour. The Marquis, however, is something of a bastard, and Arnaud's two brothers Claudio and Henri are separated from each other and raised ignorant of their father. Arnaud is kept by the Marquis, but treated more as a pet than a human being. Worse, Arnaud, a handsome young man, is captured by a band of thieves and tortured, so that he is now a hunchback with an "excrescent shoulder." Arnaud's friends spurn him and no woman will accept his love.
Given these circumstances, it's understandable that Arnaud should sell his soul to the devil in exchange for restored health and beauty. Old Nick creates a pretty new body and puts Arnaud's soul into that body, dubbing him "Julian." There's a condition, however: the body of Arnaud must remain in the cave where Arnaud summoned up Satan. "Julian" now begins tormenting his brothers, capturing them and torturing them. Julian's new bedmate, Lady Laurina, sexually teases the bound brothers in a scene quite possibly inspired by de Sade. Julian is finally stopped when, in the midst of sacrificing Henri to Satan (and making sure that Henri renounces God while being sacrificed, so that Henri will go to Hell after he dies), Claudio shoots him. It is left to the Inquisition to sweep in, capture Julian, and burn him at the stake.
Ricardo Beraldi appears in Isaac Crookenden's Fatal Secrets (1806). Beraldi is one of the most sexually avaricious of all Gothic Hero-Villains. Beraldi is adopted as a young man by the good Count Ormando, and when Beraldi repays the Count's generosity by seducing the Count's wife Theodora. Beraldi locks Theodora in a tower to which only he has the key and then imprisons the Count in a dungeon. From there Beraldi rapes Alicia de Salmoni. From this comes the lovely Etherlinda de Salmoni, but Etherlinda indirectly is responsible for Beraldi discovering that Alicia was his sister. Beraldi, frenzied with remorse, kills himself, allowing Etherlinda (who remains ignorant of her parentage) to marry Ormando, the son of Count Ormando. So, for those scoring at home (or just playing by yourself), Beraldi is a kidnaper, adulterer, sadist, poisoner, rapist, and is responsible for incest and the imprisonment of a violated maiden.
The Black Spirit of the Wye appears in John English's The Grey Friar and the Black Spirit of the Wye (1810). The Black Spirit of the Wye is actually also the Grey Friar; he's an outlaw who, out of a combination of capriciousness, high-mindedness, and amorality, poses as a noble vigilante (the Grey Friar) and a sinister manipulator (the Black Spirit of the Wye). The Black Spirit has an almost supernatural capability for ventriloquism and disguise, abilities that he shares with (and which English likely stole entirely from) Carwin, the man who drove Theodore Wieland mad. The Black Spirit is in the midpoint of the Hero-Villain's change from what Frederick Frank calls "the monastic monster and fiendish baron" of the earlier Gothics to either the seeker after scentific forbidden knowledge, ala Victor Frankenstein, or the brooding, Byronic superman.
Mother Bracciano appears in William Henry Ireland's The Abbess: A Romance (1799). Sister Mary Muriel Tarr, in her doctoral dissertation, Catholicism in Gothic Fiction, said, "the worst of all Gothic abbesses is Madre Vittoria Bracciano, the feminine counterpart of Ambrosio," and Frederick Frank describes Bracciano as "the seducer-superior of all Gothic women." And, indeed, Mother Bracciano does live up to that billing. She seduces, she tortures, and she torments with threats of torture. "Pride, cruelty, malice, and revenge; such were the passions that reigned triumphant o'er her mind. Her desires too were licentious, and with difficulty bridled, even by the situation she held." She's a mean one, but she obviously enjoys her cruelty and seduction and torture, and, well, I'm a sucker for characters like that. Of course, she ends up on the rack, courtesy of the Inquisition, but she's fun for all of that.
Gondez appears in William Henry Ireland’s Gondez the Monk: A Romance of the Thirteenth Century (1805). Gondez is the Abbot of St. Columba, and a particularly nasty Gothic villain. He’s got all the usual lusts of a Gothic villain, threatening the sweet, innocent Ronilda, and as usual enjoys starving and torturing people, but he’s also got various nasty surprises in the Abbey, including a bleeding crucifix and an unpleasant assistant, the Little Red Woman, who keeps pet snakes and hides them around the Abbey. Gondez, naturally, ends up on the rack, a guest of the Inquisition, and finally expires over a slow fire.
Leontini appears in Grenville Fletcher's Rosalviva; or, the Demon Dwarf (1824). Leontini is a young man who is jilted the noble Viola di Morini. Leontini is thus free to become infatuated with Rosalviva, a fascinating woman of loose morals and evil intent. Leontini is too kind for her, and she bores of him quickly and takes up with Leontini's friend Conte Golfieri, who knows far more than Leontini of "deeper wickedess" and so can teach Rosalviva what she wants to know. Golfieri jilts her for the much richer Francesca. Rosalviva is, understandably, is angry with Golfieri, not least because he killed her father (something which didn't bother her when they were in love). Rosalviva plots against Golfieri, her hate rising to an emotional crescendo, assisted by a hideous, demonic dwarf lurks. The dwarf pretends to kill Francesca and displays her "corpse" to a smug Rosalviva and a tormented Golfieri. With the dwarf's help Rosalviva then locks Golfieri inside a cell with Francesca's "corpse." The dwarf then reverses corpses, restores Francesca to life, accuses Rosalviva of all of her crimes, and reveals himself to be Leontini. Rosalviva, guilt-struck, commits suicide.
Lord James Marauder was created by Charles Lucas and appears in The Infernal Quixote: A Tale of the Day (1801). Marauder is a non-standard Gothic Hero-Villain, in that Lucas' intent in writing The Infernal Quixote was to make a conservative attack on and answer to the liberal ideas of William Godwin and other Jacobin novelists--in Frederick Frank's words, Lucas "opposes the revolutionary premise that the natural instincts of the individual should be regarded as superior to the corrupt controls of the state or confining social institutions such as traditional marriage." Lucas is a freethinker and anarchist who is out to undermine society itself as well as the institution of marriage; he uses slogans and a glib delivery to hide his own lust for power and for women. He's so bad, in fact, that his cousin is the Devil. (No, really--it says so right in the preface, which is written by Lucifer Himself). Lucas is largely responsible for the Irish rebellion of 1798, which in turn leads to the collapse of a British government and then the destruction of the social order. Marauder also ruins a number of marriages through affairs with married women (Marauder is a proponent of open marriage), although he is thwarted in the end by the marriage between Mr. & Emily Wilson. Marauder throws himself off a cliff in frustration.
The Marchioness of A appears in Selina Davenport's An Angel's Form and a Devil's Heart (1818). The Marchioness of A is a Heroine-Villainess, angelic in form but wicked in body. She also possesses various supernatural powers, being able to shapeshift and appear young or old. The Marchioness of A is evil but mostly interested in seduction and sex used for bad ends, and her chief target is Edward, a young wastrel but a man with a great deal of promise. The Marchioness of A eventually loses her grip on Edward after he gains success as an artist, and she finally commits suicide.
Morcar appears in T.J. Horsley Curties' The Watch-Tower (1804-5). Although The Watch-Tower is set against a historical backdrop (Scotland during the wars of Robert the Bruce against Edward II) this Morcar is not a historical character. He's just a good bad one. Morcar is the Master of the Fortress of Stroma, an impenetrable castle surrounded by cliffs and precipices. Morcar uses the Fortress to carry out his various evil schemes, which include supporting Edward II and more Gothic pursuits like torture, murder, and rape. He's got a derrick arrangement which is the only access to the Fortress and which he uses to lower his victims into his clutches. By the end of The Watch-Tower Morcar has tortured Earl Ulthona to death, raped the sweet Imogen, shown a visitor through his hall of torture (which is full of Morcar's mutilated victims), and finally been thrown off one of his battlements by the son of another of his victims.
Obando appears in William Child Green's The Abbot of Montserrat (1826). The Abbot of Montserrat is a better-written-than-normal Gothic, carried off with a good degree of style, and momentarily invigorated the Gothic genre, which by 1826 was decrepit. Obando is a monk who lusts after the maiden Isabel as well as the title of Abbot of Montserrat. He has no fair chance of getting either, however, and so he sells his soul to Zatanai, who appears in a cloud of sulfurous, incandescent smoke. Zatanai is a tempter and a taunter and finally persuades Obando to sign the infernal contract, but Obando quickly discovers that Zatanai, like all tempters, lied. Obando does become the Abbot of Montserrat (although he has to strangle the Abbot himself--it hardly seems like he needed to sell his soul to do that) but Zatanai refuses to hand over Isabel. Moreover, Zatanai tells Obando that Roldan, a bloodthirsty bandit chief whose gang is despoiling the lands around the monastery of Montserrat, is his brother. Roldan's thugs threaten Obando while the Inquisition brings charges of black magic against Obando. Roldan's crew and the Inquisition mutually storm the Abbey and take it, but then fight over it. Obando, desperate, agrees to let Zatanai take him from the flaming ruins of the Abbey, but they are scarcely in mid-air when Obando suddenly renounces his evil ways. Zatanai lets him go, and Obando's body falls to a fiery death, but the final implication is that Obando's soul is redeemed. This is a violation of one of the rules of the Gothic, that evil characters must remain evil to and at their deaths, and suffer in the afterlife for what they did while in life.
Zeluco appeared in John Moore's Zeluco: Various Views of Human Nature, Taken from Life and Manners, Foreign and Domestic (1789). Zeluco is another of the Hero-Villains, though an extreme example. Zeluco's passions are high, like any Hero-Villain, but Zeluco has a need for cruelty and a lack of insight into his own character (until his inevitable death scene), so that Zeluco's sadism, which he delights in, makes him one of the crueler, more evil Hero-Villains. He is a Sicilian of noble background whose sadism progressed from killing birds (as a child) to strangling children (as an adult). Though married (to a good woman who he torments on occasion), Zeluco's usual partner is Nerina, a woman who exults in evil and cruelty. Zeluco's crimes including throttling his own infant son to death, driving his wife to madness through the latter act, and having a slave flogged to death.
overness. The Governess was created by Henry James and appears in “The Turn of the Screw” (Collier’s Weekly, January-April 1898). James (1843-1916) is one of the most acclaimed of the turn of the century authors and critics; his works, from The Bostonians (1886) to The Spoils of Poynton (1896) to The Ambassadors (1903) to, yes, “The Turn of the Screw,” are all firmly in the canon. “The Turn of the Screw” is most of the most discussed ghost stories ever written, with a number of literary heavyweights, including no less than Edmund Wilson himself, treating it very seriously. Coming to the story the first time, I find myself unconvinced as to the story’s status as a great story but appreciative of a number of its elements.
Over a holiday a group of people are telling each other stories, and one, Douglas, reads to the group a story written by a woman many years ago; Douglas knew the woman and thought well of her, and she gave him the papers before she died. (What follows is narrated entirely by the woman, which is a crucial point in evaluating the story). She (her name is never given) was hired as a governess by a bachelor, a Harley Street physician. He is a young, handsome, pleasant man who is friendly enough but insists that no matter what happens she is not to communicate with him. He essentially wants to be rid of the children, who were his brother’s children; thanks to the brother’s death as well as the death of the bachelor’s parents, the bachelor is the ward of the children, but he cannot look after them, so he hires the governess to do so. The children are a boy, Miles, perhaps 10-12 years old, and a girl, Flora, several years’ younger. The governess travels to Bly, the bachelor’s mansion, and meets the girl as well as Mrs. Grose, the woman who had been maid to the bachelor’s mother and who was head of the servants. The governess is initially quite taken with Flora as well as with Mrs. Grose. Unfortunately, not long after the governess moves in to Bly Miles arrives, accompanied by a letter from his school which states that Miles has been dismissed from his school. The letter does not go into particulars about why Miles is no longer welcome at the school, simply that they cannot keep him. Mrs. Grose, who thinks the world of Miles, is aghast at the idea that Miles might be in any way at fault. The governess also finds out that Mrs. Grose is hesitant to say much about the governess’ predecessor, only saying that she left Bly and went elsewhere to die.
For a time everything is fine, and the governess enjoys her position and the children’s company. But one day at twilight she sees a stranger on the house’s tower, and then, one Sunday, she sees the man again, peering through the windows of the house and looking at her. When she speaks to Mrs. Grose about this it emerges that the man is Peter Quint, a former valet for the bachelor who died some time ago. Miles, meanwhile, acts as if nothing is wrong, and does not speak about school (the governess and Grose have not told him about the letter). The governess is certain that Quint has come for Miles, and is afraid, and Grose is as well–she mentions how clever and evil Quint was. Then, while out playing with the children, the governess sees a second apparition, a very evil-looking woman. Worse, the governess is certain that Flora saw the second figure but said nothing about it to the governess, something she finds suspicious. Mrs. Grose tells the governess that the second figure is Miss Jessel, the former governess (who also died), that Quint and Jessel were involved before their deaths, and that they interacted with Miles and Flora before they died. The governess sees Quint again, on a stairwell, but confronts him and is certain that she has in some way defeated him. But that evening Miles sneaks out of his room and goes on to the lawn, disobeying the governess’ orders, and he acts unrepentant when confronted by her about this. The governess comes to the conclusion that Quint and Jessel have come back for the children, who have been shamming innocence about them, are tainted with their evil and want to get to the ghosts. Mrs. Grose is alarmed by the governess’ words, but she’s unsure what to do and acts more as the governess’ sounding board and friend than as a co-conspirator. The children never admit that they’ve seen the ghosts, and act chummily with each other and innocently to the governess. Miles in particular acts as if he has no cares, telling the governess how much he wants to go back to school, as if nothing had gone wrong there. The governess sees Jessel again, and then tries to get Miles to talk about what happened at the school, but he refuses. The governess writes a letter to the bachelor asking him to come visit, but before it can be mailed Miles acts the little gentleman around the governess, who then realizes that he’s been acting as a decoy so that Flora can see Jessel. The governess and Mrs. Grose go out after Flora, and when they find her the governess points out Jessel’s presence, but Flora acts as if Jessel isn’t there, and Grose claims not to see anything.
After this Flora refuses to see the governess, saying awful things and convincing Mrs. Grose that something is wrong with her, and the governess discovers that her letter was stolen by Miles before it could be mailed, and so the governess decides to send Flora and Mrs. Grose away and confront Miles. She does, but he’s a long time admitting that he took the letter and that something bad happened at school, and even then he only admits that he “said things.” But before he can explain what those things were, the governess sees Quint at the window, and the governess grabs Miles, who does not see Quint, and the governess shrieks her victory at Quint, but when Quint vanishes the governess discovers that Miles’ “little heart, dispossessed, had stopped.”
So very much has been written about “The Turn of the Screw,” and by so many intellectual and critical heavyweights, that I find myself almost too intimidated to start. So I’ll put off tackling the big issue–did any of this really happen, or was it all in the governess’ head?–and discuss the story itself.
Those who call “The Turn of the Screw” the “greatest ghost story ever written” are ignoring style in favor of idea and execution. The style which served James so well in The Spoils of Poynton is missing here. In part this is because of James’ choice of the narrator; the governess is an unsophisticated person, and so her narration deliberately lacks the precision of phrase which James shows in his other works. But in other respects “The Turn of the Screw” is quite flawed. It’s very slow. The governess is given to over-explaining matters, over-analyzing her actions, over-justifying herself, and constantly evaluating and justifying her own motives and emotions and actions. While these may have been deliberate on James’ part, to lend depth to the possibly delusional character of the governess (see below), it is overdone to the point of robbing the story of most of its momentum and obscuring events, especially since the sentences are over-long, written in a breathless style and with the emotions constantly pitched to near-hysterical levels. Again, James may have deliberately decided to write the story in this manner–but if so it was a bad decision and made the story better crafted but less enjoyable.
James’ characterization is also poor. (Heresy, I know, but that’s how I saw it). The reader spends a great deal of time inside the governess’ head and so see her as a three-dimensional character, but Mrs. Grose is barely one-dimensional, and James spends far too much time telling us how sweet and good the children are rather than showing us. In the latter half of the story Miles is given dialogue to speak, but by story’s end we’ve gained little more insight toward his character than we had when the governess was telling us what a little gentleman he was. Once again, it must be conceded that these may have been deliberate acts on James’ part–but, once again, the end result is to detract from the story.
What “The Turn of the Screw” is most prized for, of course, is its ambiguity. The central issue of the story is whether the events described by the narrator actually took place. In some ways she is a stereotypically and perhaps archetypally unreliable narrator; her narration contains certain internal contradictions which make her not completely trustworthy. Because of this the story provides material for any number of interpretations of its events, and in that respect it is worthy of the high praise it has received. Decades of criticism have yielded three competing schools of thought:
1) The story is to be taken literally. The children were being stalked by the ghosts of Quint and Jessel, and the governess heroically saved them from being possessed by their evil, although of course Miles died at the end. “Turn of the Screw” is a ghost story.
2) The story is not to be taken literally. The governess is entirely delusional, a psychologically sick woman gripped with repressed sexuality and frustrated desire for her bachelor employer who drew the children and Mrs. Grose into her web of delusion and was ultimately responsible for the death of one of her charges. There never were any ghosts. “Turn of the Screw” is a story of disturbed psychology.
3) There were ghosts, but they have been unconsciously or subconsciously summoned by the governess rather than existing independently of her. Because she is unaware of her own role in creating the ghosts, she can never completely banish them. “Turn of the Screw” is a horror story.
Cases can be made for each theory, and each theory has its flaws. If the ghosts existed, why couldn’t Mrs. Grose see them? If the ghosts didn’t exist, and the governess was a mentally ill woman, how did the governess know what Quint and Jessel looked like, and why did Douglas think so well of her? If the ghosts were summoned only by the governess, and the children were innocents before her arrival at Bly, what exactly was so horrible about what Miles told his classmates as to require his expulsion, and where did Flora learn the awful language that so appalled Mrs. Grose? E.F. Bleiler preferred the third explanation: “It fits best with the concept of the supernatural in James’ other ghost stories; it does not violate James’s original anecdote or his later comments; and it offers a turn of the screw.” James himself made various statements about the story; in his 1895 notes he described the source for the story, a ghost story told to him by the Archbishop of Canterbury in which the servants
corrupt and deprave the children; the children are bad, full of evil, to a sinister degree. The servants die...and their apparitions, figures, return to haunt the house and children, to whom they seem to beckon...so that the children may destroy themselves, lose themselves by responding, by getting into their power. So long as the children are kept from them, they are not lost: but they try and try and try, these evil presences, to get hold of them. It is a question of the children “coming over to where they are.”In the preface to The Aspern Papers (1908) James takes the literal approach and says, “To bring the bad dead back to life for a second round of badness is to warrant them as indeed prodigious....”
What do I think? While conceding the merit in all three arguments–and, really, one of the brilliant aspects of “The Turn of the Screw” is that it is constructed, deliberately or not, in such a way that there is no one decisive argument, and that (like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) any number of interpretations can validly be made–my preference is for the first argument, that the ghosts did exist. I think it is a more emotionally satisfying story if interpreted as being literal rather than the product of a deluded mind. But this is an emotional response and a sentimental one rather than an intellectual one.
The governess herself is interesting. She’s at the heart of the story’s ambiguity and so can be interpreted, like the story itself, in a number of ways. Only a few things about her can be stated with assurance. She’s emotionally high-pitched–wound too tight–as can be seen from her narration. She is at least somewhat familiar with novels in which plucky heroines fight against threatening men, and so at least unconsciously (if not consciously) compares herself to the heroines of The Castle of Udolpho (see the Count Montoni entry), Jane Eyre, and Henry Fielding’s Amelia. Based on what Douglas said about her in the frame narrative, she went on to be a good and successful governess after the events at Bly. And she was very attracted–in love, according to Douglas–with the bachelor, although of course nothing occurred between them.
I think “The Turn of the Screw” is an intellectual achievement. I certainly see how the layers of ambiguity provide endless amount of intellectual fun for those who enjoy dissecting stories and teasing out ambiguities. I do not think the story is satisfying on the very basic level of storytelling, however. This may have been deliberate on James’ part, but if so it was, in my opinion, a bad decision.
overnment Inspector. This character, whose name I've yet to discover (for reasons which should become apparent), was created by V. N. Elagin and appeared in "Oktupnoe delo" (The Tax Farm Affair), in Sovremennik #9, 1858. I don't know much about either Elagin or the "Oktupnoe delo," unfortunately. This Elagin might have been Nikolai Elagin (1817-1891), a Russian Socialist/revolutionary writer, but I can't tell you much more than that. The Inspector, for his part, was one of the first detectives in Russian literature, with "Oktupnoe delo" being quite possibly the first Russian detective short story. He is (obviously) an inspector for the Tsar, attempting to expose the corrupt dealings of a tax farmer, one of the men whose vodka distilleries provided so much money to Tsarist Russia. Unfortunately, not only does the inspector encounter difficulties from the tax farmer, but the farmer's workers are quite capable in their own right, and there are a number of government officials who were accepting bribes from the farmer and did what they could to hinder the inspector. (He succeeds in the end, though).
raustark. Graustark was created by George Barr McCutcheon and appeared in Graustark (1901), Beverly of Graustark (1904), and The Prince of Graustark (1914). McCutcheon (1866-1928) was a newspaper and writer who hit it big with Graustark, the most successful of the Ruritanian novels. (I'll be getting to Ruritania & The Prisoner of Zenda in the next month or so). Graustark, though sold for only for only $500, brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars in profit for publishers and theatrical producers, who later voluntarily paid him royalties. Graustark, like many another imitator of it and The Prisoner of Zenda, is about an American who finds love and adventure in an imaginary European country, eventually marrying the ruler of the country. In Graustark's case the American is Grenfall Lorry, who is travelling through America when he meets and is smitten with a beautiful foreigner. He helps her catch a train, they chat, and his infatuation with her deepens. Yetive leaves for her home country, he eventually follows her (after going to some lengths to discover where it is), and after alarums and excursions, including his discovery that she's actually the ruler of Graustark, his imprisonment for murder, and Yetive's impending nuptials to the distasteful leader of Axphainia--Axphainia will forgive a rather large war reparations debt if Yetive marries the prince, otherwise Axphainia will demand repayment of the debt and Graustark will be forced to cede most of its land--all is well. Grenfall marries Yetive and is made the Prince Consort of Graustark, and everyone lives Happily Ever After. (Graustark is as much a genteel romance as an adventure novel).
Graustark is a tiny country somewhere in Europe. Its exact location is deliberately left vague in Graustark, although the two sequels more precisely place it in the Balkans. Graustark is only eight hundred square miles of mountainous farmland. Its people are very proud, very formal, and very conscious of manners and propriety. They are not unfriendly, though, and are welcoming (within limits) to strangers. They are stylish, relatively modern (despite their monarchical government), and patriotic.
ray, Dorian. Dorian Gray was created by Oscar Wilde and appeared in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890 in Lippincott's Magazine, 1891 as a novel). Oscar Fingal O'Flaherty Wills Wilde (1854-1900) is well known as the wittiest (arguably) writer of the 19th century as well as its most prominent gay writer. The facts of his life are surely too well known for me to cover here. All I really have to add is that what a lot of people don't realize is that Wilde was an articulate voice for social reform in his work and that his children's stories are surprisingly sweet and cynicism-free.
But Dorian Gray is the subject for today. The Picture of Dorian Gray is one of those works much more spoken of than read, which is a shame, since the novel is much more than just the story of a man and the painting which reflects his sins. The Picture of Dorian Gray is about three men: Basil Hallward, Lord Henry "Harry" Wotton, and Dorian Gray. Basil Hallward is a famous painter. Lord Harry is a notorious wit and cynic (who may have been Wilde's Me character). And Dorian Gray, at the start of the story, is a beautiful young man, naive but friendly, from a wealthy, aristocratic family. (All three men are part of London Society). Dorian is a gorgeous naif who sits for Hallward. The resulting portrait is Hallward's best work, in large part because Hallward falls in love with Dorian and invests the painting with his adoration for Dorian, what he calls his "curious artistic idolatry." Just after the painting is finished Dorian utters a wish:
'How sad it is!' murmured Dorian Gray, with his eyes still fixed upon his own portrait. 'How sad it is! I shall grow old, and horrible, and dreadful. But this picture will remain always young. It will never be older than this particular day of June.... If it were only the other way! If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old! For that - for that - I would give everything! Yes, there is nothing in the whole world I would not give! I would give my soul for that!'Dorian doesn't give up his soul, but the rest of his wish comes true, and the sins he commits are reproduced on Hallward's paintings, rather than on Dorian's body. Although Dorian was Hallward's friend, once Lord Henry is introduced to Dorian he falls under Lord Henry's spell and separates himself from Hallward. As the years pass Dorian grows increasingly jaded, cruelly ending a love affair with an actress and then engaging in increasingly depraved vices. As he does so the painting becomes increasingly grotesque, the vices making the image of Dorian bloated and corrupt. Dorian eventually shows Hallward the painting. Hallward's reaction is to implore Dorian to pray, which causes Dorian to feel uncontrollable loathing for Hallward and then to stab him to death. Dorian has the corpse disposed of and continues on his way, but eventually he tires of his life of vice and sin and decides to destroy the painting. When he stabs it, he dies, and all of his sins rebound upon him, leaving his corpse "withered, wrinkled, and loathsome of visage" and the painting as exquisite as the day it was finished.
There are a number of dominant themes in Dorian Gray. There’s the examination of the psychology of temptation and corruption, of course, the charting of Gray’s moral downfall, which like Fitzgerald’s bankruptcy came gradually and then all at once. There is Wilde’s attack on the upper classes and the emphasis placed by the middle classes on surface values. There is the airing of Wilde’s artistic views through Lord Harry. There is the use of Decadence. Wilde was much influenced by Joris-Karl Huysmans’ A Rebours (a work which, praise the lord, I will not be covering here) and made substantial use of it in Dorian Gray. A Rebours is the “yellow book” which “poisoned” Gray and turns him into a Decadent. Gray imitates Des Esseintes, the protagonist of A Rebours, in his indulgence in color fetishism and general decadence. The passages in which Gray is most affected by A Rebours are even written in the overripe, piled-on-detail way of the Decadents.
And there is the entire theme of homosexuality. Of the three main characters only Hallward is the purest gay character. Lord Harry is married, to a wife he is very fond of, although that does not stop his affairs. And Dorian gets involved with at least one woman along with all of his male conquests. But the men are primarily gay, and are implied to have been involved with each other to greater or lesser degrees. Hallward’s tragedy is that he is in love with Dorian, an affection which Gray reciprocates only briefly. Dorian is heavily influenced by Lord Harry, but theirs is a mentor-pupil relationship rather than one of lovers.
Dorian himself, as mentioned, begins as a beautiful naif and ends as a jaded decadent, both proud of and ashamed of his corruption. At the beginning of the story he is barely over 18 and easily affected by Lord Harry. By the time he dies he is 38 and thoroughly depraved, a notorious figure in society and one who has ruined many lives, both men and women. The progression is a gradual one, and his pride in his own beauty is one of the keys to it. Although he is not the most compelling character–that would be the bitchy Lord Harry, the Petronius/Raphael Aben-Ezra/Zenith the Albino-style sardonic wit–Dorian is the center of the novel. His vices are kept deliberately vague, which makes them the more dreadful seeming, but it’s clear that opium and sleeping with men are the least of his crimes.
If I’ve made The Picture of the Dorian Gray sound dully serious, it’s not, trust me. It’s a serious novel, without a doubt, but not in a dull way. The passages of philosophy are interestingly written, the wit and epigrams fairly drip off the page, and the story is an absorbing one.
ray, Peterkin, Jack Martin & Ralph Rover. Peterkin Gray, Jack Martin and Ralph Rover were created by R.M. Ballantyne and appeared in The Coral Island (1858) and The Gorilla Hunters (1861). Ballantyne (1825-1894) was a very popular and prolific author of books for children, one of the foremost examples (with Mayne Reid, of Captain Haller, Frederick Marryat, of Masterman Ready, G.A. Henty, whose work will find its way into these pages soon enough, and W.H.G. Kingston, whose work may or may not be included here) of Victorian “Boy’s Own” fiction. Ballantyne is not read much today, for reasons which will become apparent, but in his time he was a very, very popular author, lecturer, and shameless self-promoter and humbug.
The Coral Island and The Gorilla Hunters are primary examples of the sort of imperialist fiction which was produced in such great quantities for British children in the 19th century. In the first novel, Peterkin, Jack and Ralph go to sea and are marooned on a deserted South Pacific island, where they use their knowledge and innate superiority to make a happy home for themselves, triumph over the elements and wild animals, defeat savage cannibalistic natives and bloodthirsty pirates, and aid missionaries in converting heathens to Christianity. In The Gorilla Hunter, the trio, now in the early twenties, travel to Africa, where they go on a big game hunt and shoot large numbers of wild animals, including gorillas (37 of them).
Where to begin, where to begin--there’s such a vast array of things to object to in these novels that I can’t quite decide where to start. It’s a target-rich environment, as they say in the military.
It must be said, in Ballantyne’s favor, that the novels are mostly readable and entertaining. Ballantyne’s style is utilitarian and there’s next to no internal life in the novels, but the novels move quickly and are full of the sort of action boys like. Ballantyne also did a great deal of research when writing the novels. He was known for writing stories about faraway places, despite not ever having visited most of them. Ballantyne compensated for this by a great deal of research (although he occasionally got some details wrong), so that his books are full of descriptions of the flora and fauna of places his audience would never see. This is a large part of Ballantyne’s appeal for his readers, and something which must be appreciated when reading The Coral Island and The Gorilla Hunters. Ballantyne’s readers did not have movies or television or radio to show them what the veldt of Africa or a Pacific coral island was like. In 1858 modern travel writing was still in its infancy, so that most magazines which Ballantyne’s readers would have been exposed to did not carry articles describing remote areas of the world--and there was a minuscule chance that Ballantyne’s readers would ever visit them. Ballantyne’s readers would have heard of these places, and may even have read brief accounts of them, but the sort of in-depth descriptions which Ballantyne provides would have been previously unknown to the average reader of Ballantyne’s work. So his descriptions, which while unextraordinary are workmanlike and effective, would excite the imaginations of his readers, and when combined with the action and the youthful characters would create thrilling fiction. Modern readers lack this sort of ignorance about the world, which is one reason why Ballantyne’s work is no longer so effective.
The other reasons are primarily ideological. Long-time readers of this site will have noticed that my political views are generally liberal/progressive. I’m open about my leanings, so that people can take my biases into account when considering my comments on a particular author or story. So it’s to be expected that I’d have political and ideological objections to Ballantyne’s work. I admit this, and am somewhat disappointed to say that, predictably, I do find the politics of The Coral Island and The Gorilla Hunters objectionable. But in other respects, which have little to do with my leftist ways, Ballantyne’s work is quite unsavory.
The two novels are, as John Sutherland put it, “fable(s) of British imperialism, with Ballantyne’s lads as romanticised colonisers.” This sums it up quite nicely. All the assumptions of imperialism are here, from the superiority of the white race to the barbarism of unreached peoples (and the corresponding need to spread the Word of Christianity) to the right of Britons to transform alien (i.e., non-Western) landscapes for their own use. A comparison with Robinson Crusoe (1719) and The Swiss Family Robinson (1812-1827), which The Coral Island has much in common with, is instructive. There’s a real sense of desperation and danger about Crusoe, a genuine feeling of the harshness and uncertainty of life on a deserted island. That feeling is missing from The Swiss Family Robinson (which, please God, will not appear here because I have too many other books and authors to get to first), which takes the Crusoe format and scenario and filters it through the prism of a fundamentalist Swiss Calvinism, so that the family is in no danger as long as they trust to God. Ballantyne further removes the element of danger from the story, leaving the impression that being stranded on a remote Pacific island is one big lark, and replaced the Wyss’ Calvinism with a broader Imperialist Christianity.
The books are quite didactic; Ballantyne obviously felt the need to instruct his audience in the proper ways to act and live as well as in what sorts of plants and animals might be found in Africa or the Pacific. Among the lessons Ballantyne teaches are the necessity to keep a stiff upper lip, regardless of the situation; the pointlessness of books which have no practical use--books which teach you how to build a ship or what a breadfruit tree looks like are good, books of philosophy and literature are useless and worse than useless; that doing is better than talking; that surviving in Africa or on a deserted Pacific island is a great doddle, if you have the right outlook; and that, come what may--shipwreck, cannibals, pirates, storms--a can-do British attitude will see you through.
Another of the books’ flaws is that Jack is Ballantyne’s plot device for instructing the readers. Jack is a walking encyclopedia of useful knowledge, so that if food is needed, Jack will suddenly know all about cocoanuts and breadfruit, and if fire is needed, Jack will of course know how to make a fire with only wood, steel, and flint. Much of the plot of The Coral Island is author-driven, with a great deal of incident which is there because Ballantyne needs to entertain his readers, rather than because they were likely to happen. In much the same way Jack is an author-directed character, knowing what the author needs him to know for the convenience of the plot.
Finally and most reprehensible is Ballantyne’s attitude toward animals. One cannot reasonably expect castaway teenagers on a Pacific island to become vegetarians, nor can one reasonably characters created by a British imperialist in 1858 and 1861 to have an enlightened attitude toward animals. But the attitude exhibited by the trio of boys in The Coral Island and The Gorilla Hunters is truly appalling. “Bloodthirsty” does not begin to describe it. Ballantyne valorizes the slaughter of huge numbers of animals, to the point almost of psychotic maliciousness on the part of Peterkin, Ralph, and Jack. I realize that they aren’t much different from most of the other big game hunter characters who appeared in Victorian and Edwardian literature (or even the pulps and 1950s literature, for that matter), but the jolly lack of conscience the trio display, and the lightheartedness with which they kill and with which Ballantyne describes the kills, is exceptional, and stomach turning.
Peterkin Gray, Jack Martin, and Ralph Rover can be (and have been) described as id, super-ego, and ego. Peterkin, who is fourteen at the time of The Coral Island, is slight, always joking, “little, quick, funny, decidedly mischievous,” and the clown of the trio. He is usually flippant and sarcastic and willing to do anything for a laugh. In The Gorilla Hunters he has grown into a famous big game hunter whose itch to find and shoot a gorilla is the impetus for the trip to Africa. Jack is the superego of the group, aggressively British in his attitudes and actions. Ralph describes him as “lion-like in his actions, but mild and quiet in disposition,” but modern readers are unlikely to see him in this light. Jack is tall and strong and quite athletic, eighteen when The Coral Island begins, a good hand-to-hand fighter, very knowledgeable (about everything the plot requires him to be knowledgeable about), and a proponent for doing rather than talking. Ralph is the ego of the three, and the alter ego of the reader. He’s an observer rather than a doer, quite and contemplative, and lacking a sense of humor.
I wasn’t as revolted by The Coral Island and The Gorilla Hunters as I was by Taras Bulba. Ballantyne is at least more entertaining to read than Gogol. But the fact that I’m invoking Gogol’s masterpiece of evil when discussing Ballantyne’s pair should tell you all you need to know about their moral content.
ray Man. The Gray Man was created by Sarah Orne Jewett and appeared in “The Gray Man” (A White Heron and Other Stories, 1886). Jewett (1849-1909) is a superb American writer who is unfairly dismissed as a regionalist. “The Gray Man” is, with “Lady Ferry,” one of Jewett’s best supernatural short stories, which means it’s very good indeed.
High on the southern slope of the Agamenticus there lies the ruins of an old farm. It’s been there for quite some time, and it is remote and quite deserted, so much so that the few men and women who pass by it are repulsed by its loneliness and ruin. Once, in the years before the Civil War, it was owned by someone who truly mastered the farmhouse, however. Its first owner died intestate, and it lay deserted for some time, and those who ventured into the house, like one foolish, laughing Coastal Surveyor, came away with the impression that “some unseen inhabitant followed his footsteps” and “made him hurry out again pale and breathless to the fresh air and sunshine,” and so the rumor of its dreadfulness spread. Then, one day, a stranger was noticed in town. “This man was tall man and had just passed middle age. He was well made and vigorous, but there was an unusual pallor in his face, a grayish look, as if he had been startled by bad news.” Naturally, small towns being what they are, his appearance in town causes some stir, and he is closely watched, and those in the town are startled to find that he has moved in to the haunted farmhouse, and murmur to each other that he might be an escaped criminal. But time passes and the stranger tries to be friendly. He speaks about the weather and politics and the town’s news. “There was a sober cheerfulness about the man, as if he had known trouble and perplexity, and was fulfilling some mission that gave him pain; yet he saw some gain and reward beyond; therefore he could be contented with his life and such strange surroundings.” He gives good advice to all who ask it of them, so that his advice and warnings are still valuable, even today. He teaches one man a new crop rotation, another a cure for lethal cattle diseases; he teaches the lonely women of the remoter country homes how to complete their daily tasks with less work and toil, and he even chooses certain promising children and gives them good advice and affectionate companionship. For a time the people of the town think that his wisdom is supernatural in origin. But, small town people being what they are, the worm of gratitude turns to envy, and he becomes an object of suspicion, superstition, and distrust. The most damning charge against him is that he is never seen to smile. “Persons who remember him speak of this with a shudder, for nothing is more evident than that his peculiarity became at length intolerable to those whose minds lent themselves readily to suspicion. At first, blinded by the gentle good fellowship of the stranger, the changeless expression of his face was scarcely observed, but as the winter wore away he was watched with renewed disbelief and dismay.” He becomes unwelcome in farmhouses where once he’d treated the children with great kindness, and his appearance at a wedding provokes only a sense of foreboding. He becomes a hermit, although those who visited him by chance told tales of the wild animals which had been tamed to come at his call. Some even tell rumors of his superhuman strength, of how he never slept during the night, and how the furniture of his house moved at his command. But eventually, when the Civil War began, he vanished; “he seemed strangely troubled and disturbed, and presently disappeared, leaving his house key with a neighbor as if for a few days’ absence.” He was not seen again in the town, although one of the town’s sons, lying among the wounded in one of the war’s early battles, saw the gray man riding by. “At that moment the poor lad thought in his faintness and fear that Death himself rode by in the gray man’s likeness; unsmiling Death who tries to teach and serve mankind so that he may at the last win welcome as a faithful friend!”
Jewett tells “The Gray Man” in third person omniscient mode, so that the precision of characterisation which made “Lady Ferry” so good is absent. But Jewett, in telling the story almost as a fable, superbly achieves a tone of sadness and wisdom. Jewett, of course, gets the feeling and details of small town Maine exactly right (accept the word of one who knows), so that the provincialism, superstition, and small-mindedness ring quite true. Jewett’s style is economical and precise without being dry–rather, there’s a careful intelligence and even wit at work, so that her style is a joy to read, and occasionally breathtaking in its perfection. And Jewett writes splendidly visual descriptions of the landscape of Maine. And, as with the silver buckle in “Lady Ferry,” the fact that Death never smiles is a wonderfully chilling touch. But “The Gray Man” isn’t a horror story. It could have been; Jewett could have written a tale to blanch and horripilate. But Jewett invests “The Gray Man” with a spiritual, almost religious, sensibility, so that Death is seen by the reader as Jewett intended him to be seen, as one who would be a faithful friend, and so his rejection is sad, but inevitable, too. “The Gray Man” can’t be called affecting, exactly, for there’s not enough characterisation for readers to identify with anyone character, but the predicament, and poor Death’s rejection, are both ironic and sad.
The Gray Man is, likely, Death, but not a frightening or vengeful Death. Rather, he’s a kind Death, one who wants to help people: “there was almost a pleading look in his kind face at times, as if he feared the later prejudice of his associates.” His final rejection, so true to life, says more about the mind set of small town inhabitants than it does about a Death who is eager to please.
reat Britain. Great Britain–this particular fictional version of it–was created by George Chesney and appeared in “The Battle of Dorking: Reminiscences of a Volunteer” (Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, n667, May 1871). Although “The Battle of Dorking” was originally anonymously published, its authorship became later known. George Tomkyns Chesney (1830-1895) was, when he wrote “Dorking,” a lecturer at Sandhurst and a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Engineers, and he was later promoted to General and knighted (so his final title was “General Sir George Tomkyns Chesney”). He was not writer by trade, although he did pen a novel and a number of short stories. “The Battle of Dorking” is best known as a Future War story–the Future War story, really. “Dorking” is better written than nearly every other successive Future War story and is in essence the archetype of the form, so I’m using it here as a stand-in for all the other Future War stories, which I won’t be reading.
The framing story of “Dorking” is of a grandfather telling his grandchildren about what Great Britain was like before the war which destroyed the British Empire. Great Britain, in 1871, is falsely confident, lulled into a feeling of invulnerability because of England’s economic power, an overestimation of the abilities of the Army and Navy, a blindness about the military might of the Germans and the British Empire’s weak position overseas, and a general egotism that, because Great Britain is Great Britain, it can never be defeated. Events prove the English to have been wrong in this. The Army is scattered around the world, dealing with a “rising in India” and then “the difficulty with America,” and the fleet is scattered around the world, protecting Canada, fighting privateers in China, and so on. When “the Secret Treaty” is published, and Holland and Denmark are annexed by the unnamed (but implicitly German) enemy, England gets itself involved and declares war. But England is unprepared for war, and there is substantial confusion during the call-up of the Army. The Regulars are clearly insufficient for the task, and so volunteers are activated. But there aren’t enough weapons for them, and housing, supplies, and transportation are all problems. The fleet is defeated in battle and the Germans begin landing men at Dorking, where the nameless narrator goes, with what men can be hastened there. The British fight bravely, but are outmanned, outgunned, and outgeneraled by the Germans, and they are defeated, with most of the narrator’s comrades in arms being killed and the narrator himself being badly wounded. He returns to his hometown to find it occupied by the Germans. The Germans take London, and England surrenders. The terms of the peace treaty are harsh, with the colonies being stripped away and Britain being forced to pay ruinous war debts. The Empire is intended, and Britain becomes decrepit, with the narrator’s grandchildren preparing to emigrate. The story ends with an analysis of the causes of England’s defeat in the war.
“The Battle of Dorking” was not the first of the Future War stories. (The “Future War” genre is for the most part stories describing an invasion of a country (almost always the story writer’s home, and often but not always Great Britain) by its enemy, with the subtext of the story being that the country lacks military preparedness and the spiritual/emotional vigor necessary to win such a war). As I.F. Clarke points out in his introduction to The Tale of the Next Great War, 1871-1914, there were a number of precursors to Chesney’s work. But “Dorking” was the most influential of the Future War stories and was extremely popular and controversial within weeks of its publication. In critical works on science fiction “Dorking” is always given at least nodding attention, because it was, in its time, important, not just on British political discourse (Prime Minister Gladstone himself denounced it) but also on literature, with numerous sequels and rebuttals being printed, as well as French, German, Japanese, and American versions being produced. Even as late as the 1980s, Future War stories were being produced, with Hackett’s The Third World War and the film Red Dawn. “Dorking” is almost a cliche, to the point where many of those familiar with the story’s plot and influence will never have read it. I was in that category.
So I was surprised to find, on reading “Dorking,” how modern it felt. There’s a certain old-fashionedness to the pontificating, and the political analysis is obvious soapbox-thumping, but the narration of the events, of the run up to the war and the battle itself, are the equal of the realism to Wells’ work in the far more celebrated War of the Worlds. (See my Martians (II) entry for my impressions of that classic). Chesney’s use of the you-are-there realistic style, which he took from Erckmann-Chatrian (see the Spider of Guyana entry for biographical information on them), works perfectly here. Chesney focuses on the basic details of the narrator’s life: the heat, the dust, the hunger, the regret at the clothing left behind, the fear under fire and the later feeling of being inured to it, the fatigue, and the general confusion, so that one could be reading an account of any new soldier from any point in history, from a rookie Greek hoplite to a raw recruit new to Vietnam. By concentrating on one man’s experience rather than on the campaign as a whole, the story has an immediacy it would otherwise lose. Too, Chesney was a career military man and had served during the siege of Delhi, so he could make use of personal experiences to impart realistic emotions and reactions to his narrator. Chesney made the reality of combat as vivid as he could without upsetting the sensibilities of his readers, so that “Dorking” has a description of a German soldier’s face as the narrator runs him through, and then later we see the senseless, random death of a child from an artillery shell. The you-are-there style is very journalistic, and gives the story the feeling of a lack of artifice, which in itself indicates the skill of Chesney’s writing. In terms of war narratives, this sort of unaffectedness and deadpan narration is far more effective than a more emotional approach.
There are some other aspects of the story which will be of interest to modern readers. There’s an emphasis on the media and news, via the papers and telegraph wires, which will seem quite familiar to modern readers. In the repeated mentions of it and the narrator’s (and the British people’s) reliance on it, and their feeling of helplessness without it (“it was as if we had suddenly come back to the Middle Ages”), the Great Britain of 1870 will seem strikingly similar to the Great Britain and United States of 2003.
There’s also a prescience to “Dorking” which I found intriguing. This was, undoubtedly, a widespread sentiment rather than something unique to Chesney, but the final description of England post-defeat (“its trade gone, its factories silent, its harbours empty, a prey to pauperism and decay”) is too close for comfort, in some respects, to England today. I may, of course, be unduly influenced by the depressing portraits of modern England sketched by J.G. Ballard, among others, but the decrepitude and even senescence of Chesney’s post-war England will seem at least somewhat familiar to modern English readers.
Finally, I was struck at how similar Chesney’s post-battle England was to other British post-apocalyptic works, from Wells’ War of the Worlds to John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids. Chesney spends much less time on the post-war days than later writers did, but like them he has a combination of emptiness, tragedy, and mundane details, which creates a more compellingly tragic feel to the text than a more exalted narrative viewpoint would have been capable of.
Chesney’s Great Britain is prime for the fall which comes. Its people were very proud. London was growing beyond all recognition, with the streets reaching down even to Croydon and Wimbledon. “We thought we could go on building and multiplying for ever.” But “‘tis true that even then there was no lack of poverty; the people who had no money went on increasing as fast as the rich, and pauperism was already beginning to be a difficulty.” But the middle class grew as well, and people thought nothing of having a dozen children. “We thought that all this wealth and prosperity were sent to us by Providence, and could not stop coming. In our blindness we did not see that we were merely a big workshop, making up things which came from all parts of the world; and that if other nations stopped sending us raw goods to work up, we could not produce them ourselves...We were so rich simply because other nations from all parts of the world were in the habit of sending their goods to us to be sold or manufactured, and we thought that this would last for ever.” But Great Britain ignored Germany’s growing military might, and the country refused to increase armaments and not support the military. When the time came, overconfidence was the country’s downfall. “We had always got out of our scrapes before, and we believed our old luck and pluck would somehow pull us through...we thought we were living in a commercial millennium, which must last for a thousand years...the rich were idle and luxurious; the poor grudged the cost of defence...truly the nation was ripe for a fall.” And fall it did.
rey Brethren. The Grey Brethren were introduced in 1874 or 1875 in The Grey Brethren by an unknown author. The Brethren are a group of boys at a number of different public schools across England; their number is unknown but could be in the hundreds, with more being added each year. They have no real leader; each school has its own leader of the Brethren, and the various cells of the Brethren communicate with each other via pre-arranged signals--lights or the codewords "The Brethren are watching!"
That's just what the Brethren do, too. They watch. They watch the streets and the alleys, they watch the distant hills, they watch the beaches and shorelines, and they watch the docks. They watch so that England's enemies will never get the upper hand. A new member of the Brethren, accepted in to the Churchyard School, is told that the Grey Brethren were founded a few decades ago in homage to the "Grey Brethren of Queen Elisabeth's time," who helped spot the Spanish Armada and guide the Queen's ships to its victory. [No such group existed as far as I've been able to tell--Your Humble Web Master]
Naturally, the Brethren do manage to uncover and thwart wrongdoers. Among the groups they stop are a ring of petty thieves in East London, a group of opium-pushing Chinese in Limehouse, and a sinister group of Russian terrorists who came ashore near Churchyard.
rey-Faced Man. The Grey-Faced Man was created by Bernard Capes and appeared in “An Eddy in the Floor” (At a Winter’s Fire, 1899). Capes was the creator of The Black Reaper and The Vanishing House. “An Eddy in the Floor” is a ghost story, and a particularly horrifying one.
“An Eddy in the Floor” is about a nameless narrator, who after attending a society party is approached by Major James Shrike, the warden at one of Her Majesty’s Prisons. The Major, impressed by the narrator’s words at the party the night before regarding the proper treatment of prisoners, offers the narrator the job of resident doctor at the jail. The Major has his own quite firm ideas about how best to treat and rehabilitate prisoners, and the narrator’s ideas are in harmony with his own. The narrator accepts, and quickly comes to respect, greatly, the Major. But one day a fraudulent medium is incarcerated and almost immediately begins complaining about the room. Initially he won’t explain why he objects to the cell, instead pleading to be sent to the infirmary, but after several hours breaks down and confesses that there is something “uncanny” in the next cell. The guard with the narrator, Johnson, tells the narrator that the cell is empty, but flatly refuses to let the narrator look into the cell. When the narrator asks the Major about the cell, the Major says that Johnson was merely repeating his orders. The Major and Johnson served together in India, and since the Major saved Johnson’s life, Johnson has been completely devoted to him. Two odd things happen then. The first is that the narrator, looking at a mirror in the Major’s office, sees the Major’s reflected face as “an image of some nameless horror of features grooved, and battered, and shapeless, as if they had been torn by a wild beast.” But the Major himself is fine, and when the narrator looks at the mirror again the Major’s face is unchanged. Then the narrator discovers, quite by accident, a book in the Major’s office which appears to be a book of poetry written by the Major himself, something which surprises the narrator. The Major is clearly displeased by the narrator’s discovery, and refers to the book as “the greatest folly of my life.” That night the medium is seized by a fit of some kind and has to be removed to the infirmary. The narrator again questions Johnson about the adjoining cell and again the guard stonewalls him. The narrator becomes obsessed with the cell, cell number 47, and one night, as if in a dream, finds himself opening the trap window to the cell. He smells something frightening and reels backward, and as he does so Johnson grabs him. Johnson refuses to let him go, verbally abuses him, and then holds him down as he opens the cell. Johnson points his lantern at the floor and points out to the narrator a little eddy of dust, continually circling the walls of the cell and slowly making its way toward the entrance. Johnson tries to hold the narrator in place–“You came of your own accord, and now you shall take your bellyfull!”–but the narrator breaks free, and when the eddy touches Johnson the guard falls to the floor in a fit.
The next morning the narrator is awoken by one of the warders, who says that something’s wrong with the Major. The narrator finds him at the door to cell 47:
He stood, spruce, frock-coated, dapper, as he always was, with his face pressed against and into the grill, and either hand raised and clenched tightly round a bar of the trap. His posture was as of one caught and striving frantically to release himself; yet the narrowness of the interval between the rails precluded so extravagant an idea. He stood motionless taut and on the strain, as it were and nothing of his face was visible but the back ridges of his jawbones, showing white through a bush of red whiskers.The narrator cannot physically free the Major and so eventually finds the key to the cell door and opens it. The Major keels over, “as if something from within had relaxed its grasp and given the fearful dead man a swingeing push outwards as the door opened.” And the Major’s face is the ruin the narrator saw in the mirror. This gives the narrator something of a nervous breakdown. He eventually recovers, and then receives a letter from Johnson, who blames the narrator for his own death and that of the Major. Johnson goes on to explain the secret of cell 47. When the Major had been a young subaltern his goal in life was to be a poet, and he finally “put all the love and beauty of his hart (sic)” into a book of poems. The book was not received well. Then, in India, a grey-faced man, a newspaper reporter, came to visit, and wormed the Major’s secret out of him. The GFM told the Major that he’d been ill-used and got a copy of the book from him with the promise that when he got home he’d write the book up. The GFM did, in a cruel and mocking way, and further abused every confidence the Major had made in him, making the Major a laughing stock among the enlisted man. One of the comparisons the GFM made was of the Major to “a dancing dervish, with the wind in my petticuts (sic).” Years later, when the Major was now a prison warden and known for his prison reform activities, the GFM came to do a report on the Major’s jail, which happened to be empty, awaiting restoration. The Major tricked the GFM into entering cell 47, and then kept him there. Permanently. Three or four times a week the Major would visit the GFM and whip him, crying “Up, you dervish, and dance to us!” and the GFM would dance around the cell until he fell to the ground, whimpering and bleeding. The Major continued this “until at last the whip could be left behind, for the man would scream and begin to dance at the mere turning of the key in the lock.” In the fifth month of his confinement the GFM, “a dumb, silent animal then,” no longer danced, only looking pitifully at the Major and Johnson. The GFM died after scratching, “An Eddy on the Floor” on the wall. The Major thought he and the GFM were quits, but when the prison was being renovated he found that a dust eddy continued to dance around the cell, and both the Major and Johnson knew it was the GFM. So they locked the door and kept it locked...until the narrator arrived.
Capes was a quite talented writer, capable of working in quite different styles. It would be hard to guess that “The Black Reaper,” “The Vanishing House,” and “An Eddy in the Floor” were by the same author. All are quite good, in their own ways, and all quite different. “An Eddy in the Floor” lacks the delicious gut-punch ending of “The Vanishing House” and period feel of “The Black Reaper.” What “An Eddy” has is a quite frightening viciousness to its story of revenge and ghosts. It might be argued that the Major had endured a lifetime of emotional pain due to the Grey-Faced Man’s words, and that the months of torture the GFM suffered were just recompense. But the idea of five months of torture, accompanied with the knowledge that one will never escape, and then finally a descent into madness, is a horrible on. Capes overcomes a slow start to create a good mood for his story, the matter of fact narration nicely emphasizes the supernatural elements of the story, and there are chilling moments in “Eddy,” especially in the image of the eddy of dust slowly whirling its way around the cell. Capes has some nicely poetic images and lines. But the final message of the story isn’t frightening so much as upsetting. I might almost describe “Eddy” as unpleasantly horrible, although that might put it in the same class as filth like http://www.reocities.com/jessnevins/vicb.html Taras Bulba. “Eddy”’s not that. It’s powerful, but lacking a balanced moral sense, which I suppose is why it has such an effect. There’s no sense of just revenge, only vengeance, first from the Major, and then from the GFM’s ghost.
In life the Grey Faced Man was vile, the sort of newspaper reporter that used to give journalists a bad name. He wormed his way into the Major’s confidence and then exploited him for personal gain. When they met up again, the Grey-Faced Man had the gall to tell the Major that bygones should be bygones, and that if not for the GFM, the Major would have kept on with his “timing nonsense” and not become the famous prison reformer. The GFM deserved punishment, surely, but not what he got. In death, though, he is an insane dust eddy, always whirling around his prison cell, and vicious in his own retribution.
ryce, Ebenezer. Ebenezer Gryce was created by Anna Katherine Green and appeared in twelve novels, beginning with The Leavenworth Case (1878). Green (1846-1935) was the creator of Amelia Butterworth and I have more information on her there.
The Leavenworth Case was a bestseller when it first appeared, though whether or not it was the first American bestseller depends on how you define the term, and it even caused some debate on the floor of the Pennsylvania Senate; readers had a hard time believing that it could have been written by a woman. Michael Grost, in his Anna Katherine Green page, has persuasively (to me, at least) argued for Green’s influence on later mystery writers. Green was well-regarded by other writers even 40 years after The Leavenworth Case. Green was a poet and was a penpal to Emerson.
And yet to my eyes the Green novels have not aged well, are not compellingly written at all, and I think the modern reader is likely to find their appeal elusive at best.
Gryce is very much an average Victorian detective. He is a police detective in New York City. He privately employs several agents to do his legwork and act as stalking horses, including the cryptic Q, who uses business cards with question marks on them (shades of Simon Templar). Created before Sherlock Holmes, Gryce is distinctively more human and realistic than Holmes was. Gryce is intelligent, certainly, well-educated when it come to criminals and their ways, and a clever, hard-working detective, but he is no Great Detective (a term I’ll define in the book of this site, but which for now may be taken as the Holmesian detective figure). He’s not brilliant. He is humble enough and realistic enough to know that “sometimes an absolutely uninitiated mind will intuitively catch at something which the most highly trained intellect will miss,” and to welcome observations from those sources. Unlike Holmes, Gryce does not scoff and sneer at the observations of his assistants, whether they are Mr. Raymond (in The Leavenworth Case) or Amelia Butterworth: “Not...but that a word from you now and then would be welcome. I am not an egotist. I am open to suggestions....” While he can be sarcastic toward his assistants and displays no small amount of confidence in his deductions, he is not cocky. He’s clever, as I said, at being a detective, and up to date on modern innovations, including the use of disguises and having his agents use ciphers when sending telegrams to him, but he has a major failing, which he freely admits to: he cannot impersonate gentlemen. He’s a creature of the middle classes and despite great efforts is unable to fool the upper classes when he pretends to be one of them.
Gryce embodies many of the mid-Victorian American ethics, down to his attitudes toward women. He is “not the thin, wiry individual with a shrewd eye that seems to plunge into the core of your being and pounce at once upon its hidden secret...Mr. Gryce was a portly, comfortable personage with an eye that never pounced, that did not even rest–on you.” He's in his mid-seventies and occasionally suffers from rheumatism. Gryce ended up being a mentor to and employer of Green’s other series detectives, Amelia Butterworth, Violet Strange, and Caleb Sweetwater, who may get his own entry here if I have the time to do him.
Green’s work is not technically bad. Her plots are skillfully put together, she includes more than enough actual detecting and investigating, her books include reproductions of hand-written notes and newspaper articles, and she incorporates extra-mystery elements, such as the love story which dominates The Leavenworth Case. Her narrative style is straightforward and unadorned. But for a poet Green produces surprisingly lifeless work. Despite the occasionally turgid dialogue and histrionic characterization there’s never a sense of the characters coming to life, of them showing the spark which separates A. Conan Doyle’s work from (I hate to say it, but) Arthur Morrison’s Martin Hewitt stories. Her language is quite formal and stiff, her descriptions are quite ordinary, her characterization predictable, her pacing confoundingly bad (the coroner’s inquest sequence in The Leavenworth Case sucks all the momentum out of the book) and she is prey to the occasionally badly written sentence.
To her credit, her books do have occasionally interesting features. The coroner’s inquest sequence in The Leavenworth Case, though an interest-killer, does give an interesting glimpse into how such things were done in the 1870s. There is a persistent gay subtext in Green’s work, not just in the Gryce novels but also in the Butterworth and Caleb Sweetwater stories, which lends itself to differing interpretations of characters and events. And there is a distinctive class consciousness, on the part of both Green and Gryce; Gryce is acutely aware of being a person of the middle-class, rather than a gentleman, and is always conscious of being excluded, both as a person and as a detective, from upper class society.
ryme, Sir Dunston. Sir Dunston Gryme was created by Gustave Linbach and appeared in The Azrael of Anarchy (1894). No information is available on Linbach, and he may be a pseudonym. The Azrael of Anarchy is a cruel tale of anarchy and evil. One day in 1894 a terrorist bomb goes off in London, killing many civilians. As the explosion takes place those responsible for it, the Council of the anarchists, meets. Their members, which represent all levels of society, from the aristocrats to the workers, are infamous, but they are led by Sir Dunston Gryme, a highly respected physician. The anarchists are discontented, for they want more direct action against England’s leaders. Gryme counsels caution, telling them that a cautious course designed to completely break down society is the best way to overthrow England’s government. He’s the most forceful and smartest member of the anarchists, and so they accede to his wishes. He leaves the meeting and goes off to help the victims of the blast. After a meeting with Rokovsky, the notorious Polish anarchist and the only true believer in anarchy of all those members of the Council, Gryme goes to the house he has set up for poor female invalids and meets with one of his patients, Mary, the beautiful daughter of an industrialist. Gryme tries to force himself on Mary. She rejects him, and he has her thrown out of the house. He then meets with one of his patients, Lady Ellice, an heiress, and tries to blackmail her into marrying him. He’s low on money, for he likes the comfortable life, and Ellice’s money would keep him in clover for quite some time. But she rejects him, and so after meeting with another member of the Council he’s left frustrated, sexually and financially, and a temporary failure. But he’s resilient, so he turns to his experiments, for he’s an avid amateur inventor and scientist, and moves on. He visits his father in an opium den and gets money from him; his father is a respectable naval officer and nobleman, and nobody but Gryme knows about his opium addiction.
Terrorism and anarchy are meanwhile on the rise in Europe, and the Council is pleased with its actions and those of its servants. Gryme is temporarily threatened by Ellice, for she has incriminating letters which he wrote to her, but he arranges to get the letters from Ellice and then subtly poison her. She dies, but her fiancé, a square-jawed Brit named Briggs, suspects Gryme despite his long and seemingly faultless treatment of Ellice. Ellice is cremated and the grieving Briggs tries to move on, but by coincidence he meets Mary, Gryme’s former patient and now a homeless woman. She tells Briggs about Gryme, and, his suspicions confirmed, he sets out to find evidence to convict and discredit Gryme. Gryme, meanwhile, is continuing with his experiments, and uses one of his new, slow poisons on his faithful Indian servant Akmet. Briggs spreads suspicions about Gryme among his friends, but he has no proof, and Gryme’s reputation is solid. Rokovsky dies trying to assassinate the Prince of Herzegovinia, which causes the anarchists Council to despair, but Gryme reassures the Council that all is well and continues on his merry way. Gryme’s father dies, and he inherits the estate, taking care of his financial problems. Gryme is appointed to inspect the naval and military stations of the Home Islands, to ensure their military readiness, but during his inspections he surreptitiously spreads cholera among the bases. When the disease breaks out, the British military is devastated, and it is then that the anarchists attack England en masse. The Queen flees to Canada and England’s government is paralyze. The anarchists do not carry success well, however, and they begin quarreling among themselves. Gryme, threatened by one of the Council members, kills him pour encourager les autres. Briggs goes to Whitehall to warn them about Gryme, but they laughingly dismiss his words and write to Gryme about the madman slandering his good name. Gryme invites Briggs over for a drink, but Briggs, quite suspicious, refuses to eat or drink anything Gryme gives him. Akmet, surreptitiously listening to the meeting between Gryme and Briggs, realizes that Gryme poisoned him, and then tries to blackmail the cure out of Gryme. Gryme instead poisons him, but he makes the mistake of telling Akmet that he’s been poisoned, and the dying Akmet throttles Gryme to death. The anarchist Council narcs each other out, and Society triumphs at the last.
The Azrael of Anarchy is certainly readable. Whoever Gustave Linbach was, he wrote in a slick, professional style. Gryme is enjoyably despicable, and Linbach portrays both the anarchists and the British government officials in a suitably cynical way. But on a certain basic level The Azrael of Anarchy is distasteful and even cruel. Linbach may have simply intended to tell the story of evil deeds in an objective and unblinking manner, but the book exudes a faint whiff of sadism, and the graphic and almost loving descriptions of the explosions and the wallowing in the cruelty of Gryme’s acts leave the reader more disgusted with the novel, and with Linbach for having written it, than edified or angered against the anarchists.
Sir Dunston Gryme is quite wicked, an “arch-fiend in human form.” He’s the personal physician to the Prince of the Orkneys as well as the King of the Carpathians. He’s well-respected and seen as the most talented and brilliant medical man in the Empire. Because of his talents and experience he was knighted and appointed Doctor to the Royal Household. He is widely revered for his work with the poor. But he has a secret. He’s half-Indian, the child of a royal mother of Bhadjapour. Gryme was raised by his Indian mother to think of himself as the rightful heir to Bhadjapour and to hate the English. And so Gryme does, and the anarchist Council is one of the methods by which Gryme gratifies his hatred. But Gryme does not believe in anarchism as a political ideal. For him, the anarchists are a means to an end, that being Dunston Gryme taking complete power as the Dictator of the British Empire. Toward that end Gryme will do anything, including using electricity on dead bodies and even poisoning his favorite dog to test the efficacy of one of his new creations. Gryme is also a sensualist, however, and he uses his considerable powers and money to take advantage of women. He uses hypnosis to rape one woman, and his Home for poor female invalids is little more than his own personal harem. He also uses his hypnosis to enrich himself. He arranges for his aristocratic patients to bequeath their fortunes to him when they die, and after their wills are finalized they mysteriously perish of unknown causes. Gryme is a dangerous toxicologist, but he’s also a skilled clairvoyant and mesmerist, instructed in those arts by fakirs when he was only a boy. He is sardonic, self-amused, and self-satisfied. He’s a young, clean-shaven and handsome young man, with an “air of serpent-like wisdom and imperial, autocratic power.”
uéran, Laura de. Aka the "Parisian Sultana," Laura de Guéran was introduced in Adolphe Belot's A Parisian Sultana (1879). Belot (1829-1890) was a French writer about whom I've been able to discover little. Given the relatively high quality of A Parisian Sultana, however, Belot obviously was an interesting, well-read and well-traveled man.
A Parisian Sultana, set in 1872 and 1873, is about Laura de Guéran, a wealthy young widow living in Paris. She is 25 years old, of average height, "admirably proportioned...fair, decidedly fair" with a "well-turned neck," a "full, though not too full bust;" her "whole countenance is a strange mixture of good-nature and firmness, of amiability and resolution, of gaiety and sadness." de Guéran was the daughter of a member of the Royal Geographical Society, and so as a child and teenager she knew "most of the celebrated travelers of our age:" Overweg, Speke, Richardson, Vogel, Schweinfurth, etc. When she turned 22 she fell in love with and married the wealthy French explorer the Baron de Guéran, and moved with him to Paris. (Although English by birth she quickly fell in love with Paris and the French and became a French patriot) With him she enjoyed two years of married bliss.
Then he disappeared, somewhere in Egypt, and she was notified that he was dead. After a year's mourning she summons three men to her well-appointed apartment; the three are in love with her and have all proposed marriage to her. She tells them that she is going to Africa to find her husband's remains and to see where he fell and why and to "publish his works," and that the three should come with her. One, a doctor, declines on the grounds that his mother is dying and he must stay with her; this is hard for him, because he clearly loves her, and she is genuinely regretful that he is not accompanying her. The other two agree, and together with an older doctor and a reliable female Cockney maid/companion they go to Africa.
The novel is all about their travels through Saharan Africa and the adventures they have there. They deal with enemy tribes, rampaging elephants, slavers, and being abandoned by their native guides. After they discover that Laura's husband might still be alive in a country on the southeast coast of Africa, they trek there, picking up an army of native warriors on the way (their king falls in love with Laura and is persuaded to accompany her south). They find the husband, who has been made the lover/prisoner of the beautiful, powerful, and majestic queen Walinda, a "black Venus" in charge of a great army of ferocious Amazon warriors. After a massive battle, the husband is freed (though not before Walinda, finding that the man she's in love with is trying to escape from her, falls on him with her spiked armor and messes him up but good) and the queen captured. She tries to kill Laura, to get back her man, but kills the Baron instead and then drowns herself out of grief. The group returns to Paris and Laura marries the doctor, who after the death of his mother had traveled into Africa to find Laura.
The three-volume novel is both a well-informed travelogue through Saharan and sub-Saharan Africa and an entertaining and well-written adventure/romance novel. Adolphe Belot had clearly traveled through Africa and well knew the areas he wrote about in A Parisian Sultana; his descriptions are memorable, especially of urban Cairo and rural Egypt. Moreover, Belot is quite progressive in how he treats the Africans; he is as free of racism as it was possible for anyone in 1879 to be, and he treats the African tribes and characters with respect. Belot is also vehemently anti-slavery, and gives a grueling description of the conditions on a slave ship on the Nile.
But the main attraction of the novel is the character of Laura de Guéran herself. She is described by one critic as being "superhuman," and this is a fair description of her--not because she has abilities beyond mere humans, but because her personality is almost too good to be true. She is resolute, well-spoken, confident but not arrogant or egotistical, sensible, fearless, kind, calm and self-possessed. She speaks several languages, is an experienced traveler and is scientifically aware. Like Belot, she is not a racist but treats everyone with respect, from porters to kings and queens. Laura de Guéran is a very attractive character, and A Parisian Sultana a very enjoyable novel.
wilt, Lydia. Lydia Gwilt was created by Wilkie Collins and appeared in Armadale (serialized in Cornhill, November 1864 to June 1866, published in 1866 as a novel). Collins (1824-1899) was the creator of several characters on this site, including Count Fosco. Armadale is a very entertaining novel with one of the century’s greatest villainesses, Lydia Gwilt.
Armadale begins in a small German town, where a dying Allan Armadale narrates his life story. When he was 21 he received property in the West Indies from his namesake, a wealthy cousin of his father. The property should have gone to the man’s cousin, but he had “disgraced himself beyond all redemption,” and so the senior Armadale gave it to younger Allan Armadale. Some weeks later a young man calling himself “Fergus Ingleby” arrives on Barbados, and he and Allan become fast friends, despite the fact that no one else likes Fergus. When an old admirer of Allan’s mother, Mr. Blanchard, sends word that he would like his daughter to meet Allan, and if things went well, marry and so unite the two families, Allan is interested (he sees a portrait of her and is smitten with her) and tells Fergus about it. Fergus then poisons Allan and hops the next ship to Madeira, where the Blanchards are staying. By the time Allan recovers and catches up to Fergus, he has pretended to be Allan Armadale and married the daughter, Jane, with the help of Jane’s maid, and thereby gained the Blanchard’s property. Allan challenges Fergus to a duel, but Fergus flees rather than face Allan. Allan takes Mr. Blanchard’s yacht and pursues Fergus. The ship Fergus and Jane are on is caught in a storm and waterlogged, and so Allan helps rescue Jane and then sees to it that Fergus drowns. Jane retires to England and gives birth to a son who she names “Allan Armadale.” The real Allan Armadale goes on to marry another woman who bears him a child, who is also called “Allan Armadale.” After the senior Allan Armadale tells his life story and gains a promise that the letter will be sent to his son once he comes of age, Allan dies, and the book jumps forward nineteen years, to 1851.
Jane has brought up her son Allan in seclusion in England with only her friend, Reverend Brock, to help him. Allan inherits Thorpe Ambrose, the Blanchard estates in England, but Jane dies soon after an extortion attempt by the maid who helped her deceive her father about the marriage to “Fergus Ingleby.” Allan is immature and not very bright and quite headstrong, and befriends a stranger who is found wandering about Allan’s fields in a feverish condition. This stranger calls himself “Ozias Midwinter,” and is clearly troubled. Ozias rubs everyone who meets him the wrong way, including the Reverend Brock, but Allan is immune to this and befriends Ozias, who in turn becomes passionately devoted to Allan. Brock, concerned about Allan, is wary of Ozias. Ozias and Allan go on a sailing trip together, and while on the trip Ozias receives the letter which Allan Armadale, Senior, dictated in Armadale’s prologue. Ozias learns that he is the other Allan Armadale, Allan Sr.’s legal child. Ozias shows this letter to Brock and tells Brock his life story, a long, sad story filled with misery and woe. Allan was the only person ever to show Ozias compassion, and Ozias swears to protect him, going so far as to burn the letter, the only proof that Ozias, not Allan, is the rightful heir to the Armadale properties. Brock becomes satisfied that Ozias’ heart is true and returns home. But later on the sailing trip Ozias and Allan become stranded on the wreck of the ship which Fergus and Jane had used to flee from Allan, Senior. While on the wreck Allan has a troubling dream about a drowning man and three other dark visions, which Ozias, who now knows about how Fergus died, takes to be a supernatural prediction about Allan’s future.
Allan moves to Thorpe Ambrose, intending to make Ozias his steward. Allan hires a lawyer, Mr. Pedgift, who recommends Mr. Bashwood, an elderly man on hard times, as an instructor for Ozias in the duties of stewardship. Allan then meets the tenants of the steward’s cottage, the Milroys, and their lovely daughter Eleanor, who Allan is attracted to. Meanwhile Jane’s former maid, the red-haired adventuress Lydia Gwilt, hears about Allan’s inheritance and unmarried stature from her old accomplice/friend, Mother Oldershaw, and launches a plot to marry Allan for his money. Lydia gets a job as a governess for the Milroys and weaves her web around Allan, who falls in love with her. Ozias does as well, even though he sees that Lydia is the woman from Allan’s premonitory dream.
But hateful Mrs. Milroy is paranoid about women taking her husband, Major Milroy, away from her, and tricks Allan into double-checking Lydia’s references. Allan and Mr. Pedgift find that Lydia lied about her references and likely is a criminal, but Allan refuses to bring these facts to light, and when Mr. Pedgift and his father, a canny older lawyer, confront Allan with what is likely the truth of Lydia’s background, Allan fires them. Allan also quarrels with Ozias, and during the quarrel a statue is knocked over, fulfilling the second part of Allan’s dream. Lydia discovers that Allan is in love with Eleanor Milroy and that there is no chance of her marrying him, but also finds out Ozias’ real name, and so decides to marry him and then see to it that Allan leaves Thorpe Ambrose and dies, so that she can take control of the estate. (She’ll be “Mrs. Allan Armadale,” after all). Lydia goes to London and after reconciling Allan and Ozias secretly marries Ozias. She encourages Allan to stay away from Thorpe Ambrose and then moves to Naples with Ozias.
Unfortunately, Lydia has by this time really fallen in love with Ozias. The first two months of their marriage was wonderful, and Lydia almost completely forgot about her plot, but Ozias doubts and fears begin to overwhelm him, and he becomes a stranger to her, badly hurting her. When Allan arrives in Naples, Lydia is ready to follow through on her plot and tries unsuccessfully to poison him. Lydia’s first husband (they never divorced–she’s a bigamist), an evil Cuban, tries to blackmail her, and she convinces him to sign on to Allan’s yacht and then rob and murder him while at sea. He acquiesces, and she moves to London (telling Ozias that family matters require her to go home) and awaits word of Allan’s death. When the newspaper prints an item about the wreck of Allan’s yacht, Lydia files a legal claim to Thorpe Ambrose. But Allan wasn’t dead, just robbed and abandoned, and he soon comes to England. Lydia takes refuge with at the sanatarium Dr. Downward, an old accomplice of hers. She connives with Downward and Bashwood (who is madly in love with Lydia and who is being used by her) to lure Allan to the sanatarium. Lydia attempts to use a poison gas on Allan, but Ozias, feeling that something is wrong, switches rooms with Allan and so is the victim of the attack, though not fatally so. Lydia finds him in time and rescues him, and then, with no hope left, leaves a sad farewell letter for Ozias and kills herself. Ozias and Allan lie about how she died so that her reputation will not be further sullied, and Allan marries Eleanor.
Armadale is uneven. Like The Woman in White, its beginning is slow, and even later in the novel there are some patches when the reader’s interest might flag. Collins lacked Dickens’ knack for the light touch and the poetic description, and while Collins has his moments of wit and humor, there aren’t nearly as many of them as there are in Dickens. Collins doesn’t have Dickens’ insight into human nature, and Collins does not have Dickens’ ability to reach the heights/depths of bathos/pathos. Dickens is the inevitable comparison to Collins, after all–in the Sergeant Cuff entry I quoted T.S. Eliot’s judgment on Collins, and as two of the giants of mid-century English literature Dickens and Collins practically invite comparison–and it’s unfortunate but undeniable that Collins comes up short in comparing the two.
But while Dickens is Collins’ superior in playing upon the emotions of the reader, Collins is quite capable of manipulating the readers’ emotion, and it is in that area that Armadale is best. Both Lydia Gwilt and Ozias Midwinter become sympathetic–Ozias more than Lydia, obviously–and there are moments when Ozias’ story and portrayal are genuinely affecting, such as when Mr. Brock, mistrusting Ozias, has asked him to stay away from Alan, and Ozias responds:
"I have done what I could, sir," he said to Mr. Brock, while Allan was asleep in the railway carriage. "I have kept out of Mr. Armadale's way, and I have not even answered his last letter to me. More than that is more than I can do. I don't ask you to consider my own feeling toward the only human creature who has never suspected and never ill-treated me. I can resist my own feeling, but I can't resist the young gentleman himself. There's not another like him in the world. If we are to be parted again, it must be his doing or yours--not mine. The dog's master has whistled," said this strange man, with a momentary outburst of the hidden passion in him, and a sudden springing of angry tears in his wild brown eyes, "and it is hard, sir, to blame the dog when the dog comes."There are several moments when ordinary descriptive text gives way to something more affecting. Collins, in his description of Ozias’ painful upbringing, shows no small amount of sympathy for the poor, and while Wilde hit upon a truth when he said, of The Old Curiosity Shop, that “One must have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without laughing,” one must have no heart at all not to be moved by the story of Ozias’ childhood.
For her part Lydia becomes more sympathetic as the novel progresses. She is still a wonderful villain, one of literature’s great adventuresses–she’s been described as “the first femme fatale in the modern sense”–but the difference between her and someone like the two Madames, Koluchy and Sara (and I really will, I promise, get to her entry within the next couple of months, I swear) is that the Madames, and similar female arch-villains, never become three-dimensional. They are villains, types, rather than characters. (This applies to male arch-villains as well, I suppose–certainly Professor Moriarty and Dr. Quartz never advance beyond two dimensions, never become realistic). Lydia Gwilt is a character, and a realistic one. For the most part she is a scheming, manipulative adventuress, but she is shown to have more aspects than just those, and by the end of the novel we understand how and why she became the way she was, and we even mourn her death. The Victorian audience was not culturally conditioned for a character like Lydia and so called her “fouler than the refuse of the streets” (as a Spectator reviewer had it), but the modern audience, more sympathetic to the plight of women, will side with her. She may lack the vitality of a Count Fosco, but she is more recognizably human than the good Count. (There is a team-up for the Oh, What Might Have Been: Count Fosco and Lydia Gwilt. Truly a Super Villain Team Up for the ages!)
But then there’s Allan Armadale. One of the biggest flaws of Armadale is that the putative hero is so unsympathetic. Collins was contrasting Allan with Ozias, so that where Allan is empty-headed, Ozias is overwhelmed with his thoughts; where Allan is all impulse, Ozias is all conscience and regret; where Allan is overwhelmingly physical, Ozias is almost purely mental and emotional. Allan is bluff and hearty–and an idiot. Almost from the first we have far more sympathy for poor, haunted, doomed Ozias than we do for the unreflective, callous dolt Allan. Even Lydia becomes more sympathetic than Allan or the simpering Miss Milroy, the nominal heroine of Armadale.
I see that I haven’t really said much about Armadale itself apart from describing its flaws. The book, though uneven, is actually quite readable. Despite the slow beginning (a Collins weakness, I’ve found–neither The Moonstone nor The Woman in White were quick out of the gate) it picks up speed and (despite a few fits and starts later in the novel) comes to a roaring finish. Lydia’s scheming verges on brilliant at times, and her machinations are entertaining to follow. Ozias, as mentioned, is a sympathetic character who we root for; he, not Allan, deserved a happy ending complete with marriage. And a few individual scenes are striking; the scene on the shipwreck is particularly creepy. The plot is complicated, but the average reader should be able to follow it without undue strain (it sounds more confusing in summary than it is while reading it). Although Armadale is usually described as a sensation novel, it has elements of the Gothic in it, especially the family secret which haunts the present, as well as of detective fiction, including James Bashwood, an early version of the corrupt and unscrupulous private detective which would later appear in greater numbers in the 20th century. Finally, Collins more than any other major Victorian novelist (which rules out Pierre Louÿs–see the Chrysis entry) made use of the unpleasant realities of sex, so that Armadale has a procuress (Mother Oldershaw), an abortionist (Dr. Downward), and a woman who has used her body to gain favors in the past (Lydia herself). Collins could not deal with these things directly, of course, and so was forced to imply them and allude to them, but his meaning is clear enough, and adds to the feeling that the world he describes is, in its way, as real as Dickens’. Armadale lacks the great good humor of The Woman in White–well, at least the scenes with Count Fosco–but there is an undeniable drive to its grimness.
Lydia. Ah, dear Lydia. A woman of great capabilities. She’s a forger, a bigamist, a husband-poisoner and an adventuress. She’s a charmer and a manipulator, a vicious wit and a skilled piano player. She’s got a great deal of spirit and fire to her–she’s a redhead–is quite cunning and quick on her feet, and can be almost gleeful in her wickedness. She has a huge amount of self-possession, and in her anger is “cool” and “venomous” rather than fiery and outraged. She has a keen eye for the subtexts of male/female interactions; her description of the morning meetings between Allan and Miss Milroy are highly amusing. But for all of her flaws, she is a product of her environment, as cruelly used as a child, in her way, as Ozias was. She is willing to do nearly anything to gain her ends, but she is not impervious. She is capable of affection–she thinks well of Major Millroy–and even true love–she truly falls in love with Ozias. She’s really her only weakness and the cause of most of her hesitations and doubts. If not for her affection and then love for him, she might well have triumphed. She’s entertaining and evil and sympathetic, all at the same time, and one of the century’s best characters.
yves, Doctor Ginochio. Doctor Ginochio Gyves appeared in "The Wheels of Dr. Ginochio Gyves," by Ellsworth Douglass and Edwin Pallander, which first appeared in Cassell's Magazine in its November 1899 issue. Both Douglass and Pallander were authors about whom little (other than their books and stories) is known today; even the dates of their births and deaths are not known. This story is a collaboration by them, a relatively rare occurrence for Victorian-era short fiction. "Wheels" is about a crotchety, foul-tempered, violent scientist and two journalists, Harry Swifton of the World and Oliva Rush of the New York Journal (the illustration to the right is of the three of them) and their trip into space on-board Gyves' new craft. Gyves is world-famous; his "improved guns had been sought by half the war-making nations of the world, and whose new motive power had so startled the steam-users of four continents that they had clubbed together to buy the right to suppress it." His new invention is an "ugly square metal thing, like an elongated box, with great vertical wheels at each end and two enormous horizontal wheels on top." Gyves says, when asked about it, that "My sole thought in inventing the machine, and my one object in building it, was to fasten upon a method of remaining perfectly stationary in space, and that is what we have done." (He never goes into more detail about how he accomplishes this, however). The ship is powered by "stored electricity" and has its own supply of air.
What happens is that the two journalists, in search of a scoop, sneak into his ship and, through a series of events, end up traveling into space with him. They discover that the ship is not entirely airtight, however, and that as they near the moon they are growing dizzy and "giddy" from lack of oxygen. Swifton manages to throw a switch before passing out; when he and the others awaken, they are on a blasted and forbidding landscape that they believe is the moon's. A short exploration and an encounter with a man disabuses them of that notion; they are only in Mexico, at the foot of "the grand old volcano of Popocatepetl." Swifton and Rush marry and live happily ever after, but nothing more is said of Gyves.
"The Wheels of Ginochio Gyves" isn't a major work of fiction, but Douglass and Pallander have an understanding that in stories such as this, brevity of scientific detail and a depth of characterisation and descriptive narration are to be preferred, as is plain old entertainment, and it shows.
A. Abällino to Axel
B. Hajji Baba to Amelia Butterworth
C. Cahina to Inspector John Cutting
D. The Damned Thing to Dyson
E. Robert Easterley to Pedro Arbuez d'Espila
F. Fantomas to the Fulgurator
G. "G" to Dr. Ginochio Gyves
H. Les Habits Noir to the Hypnotist
I-J. Ichor to Rob Joslyn
K. Kai Lung to Kreuzgang.
L. Lady Detectives to Arsène Lupin
M. Madame Koluchy to Dora Myrl
N. Nameless Child to Alice Nutter
O. Jack O'Halloran to Ozmar the Mystic
P. Pan to Psammead
Q. Dr. Jack Quartz to Quong Lung
R. A.J. Raffles to Lord Ruthven
S. Mr. Sabin to Count Szémioth
T-U. Adrian Temple to Undine
V. Vaila to Vril
W. Hilda Wade to Wung-Ti
X-Y. Xipéhuz to Yuki-onna
Z. Zaleski to Zoe