abin, Monsieur. Monsieur Sabin was created by E. Phillips Oppenheim and appeared in Mysterious Mister Sabin (1898) and The Yellow Ribbon (1903). Oppenheim (1866-1946) was an English author who wrote 116 novels and 39 short story collections, most about mystery, crime, and international intrigue; although extremely popular during his lifetime–he was called "the Prince of Storytellers"–his output is mediocre, and in personality Oppenheim was vile.
Mysterious Mr. Sabin is a very ordinary novel of intrigue and love redeemed only by the presence of Mr. Sabin. “Mr. Sabin” is only the pseudonym under which he works while in England. His real name is Herbert de la Meux, Victor Duc de Souspennier, and he is a very wealthy French aristocrat with a great hatred of England and a great love for French royalty. His life’s project has been the restoration of the French monarchy, and he has worked toward that goal without ceasing since the fall of the Commune, intriguing across Europe and Asia. For the past seven years he has been particularly active, researching the status of the Home Islands’ defenses. He has most of the information he needs, the remainder, which he needs to finish his researches, is in the hands of Lord Deringham. Lord Deringham is a former Admiral who is preparing a definitively thorough study of Britain’s naval preparedness and defenses. Lord Deringham is preparing the study for the Admiralty, and is half-mad with paranoia about the worth of his work. He doesn’t tell the rest of his family what he’s doing, so they think he’s not merely half-mad but completely so, and they dismiss his worries about attempts to get his research.
Lord Deringham is not paranoid, however, for Mr. Sabin is trying to get the information. Sabin’s plan is to take Deringham’s work, combine it with his own, and then sell the finished product to the highest bidder. He is in active negotiations with both the Russians and the Germans. His ultimate goal is to marry Princess Helene of Bourbon to Prince Henri of Ortens and place both on the French throne as rulers of France. To do this he needs a revolution in France, which he is sure will succeed, as the royalists have been gaining power and sympathy for decades. For this to take place, he needs a foreign power to destabilize the French government by invading France, so that the royalists can make their move–which is why he is negotiating with the Russians and Germans. He reaches an agreement with the German ambassador, Baron von Knigenstein–Sabin’s papers in exchange for an invasion of France. France isn’t Knigenstein’s ultimate goal, however. That’s England: “There is no room for a growing England and a growing Germany! So! one must give way, and Germany is beginning to mutter that it shall not always be her sons who go to the wall." And with Sabin’s papers, Germany can achieve the defeat of the English navy and coastal defenses.
So Sabin tries to get the information from Lord Deringham. He places one of his agents, an adventuress, in Lord Deringham’s service as a secretary, but Lord Deringham comes to suspect her and has her fired. Mr. Sabin then travels to England and begins trying to find another way to get at Deringham’s work. He takes with him Princess Helene, who poses as his niece and who accompanies him not through any great affection for him but because, as a French patriot, she agrees with his aims. This brings Sabin and Helene into contact with Wolfenden, Deringham’s son and the putative hero of Mysterious Mr. Sabin. Wolfenden falls in love with Helene, and she with him, and the part of the novel that is not concerned with Sabin’s pursuit of his dream of a Royalist France deals with Wolfenden’s pursuit of Helene.
Sabin eventually blackmails Lady Deringham into letting him get into Lord Deringham’s study. (Lady Deringham and Sabin had a love affair, years ago, before she married Lord Deringham, and she wrote Sabin several love letters, which he kept). Sabin gets the information and is set to deliver the plans to von Knigenstein when a representative of the French “High Council” (implicitly the organization of French Royalists) appears and informs Sabin that he must destroy his papers, as the balance of power in the world must be maintained and that besides, England has been tolerant and “she has sheltered us.” Sabin gives in, since he works for them (much to his regret), and sails away to America, no longer being welcome in England or Europe. Helene and Wolfenden marry, and Sabin, after outwitting some German assassins, ends the novel in Lenox, Mass., with the one woman he ever regretted misusing. (She forgives him, and so there’s a happy ending of sorts). The Yellow Crayon brings Mr. Sabin out of retirement to solve the disappearance of his wife and defeat the machinations of a European conspiracy.
Mysterious Mr. Sabin is readable, at least, and moderately entertaining. It put me in mind of the kinds of novels you find on the bookshelves of cabins or vacation houses when it’s a raining and dreary Sunday afternoon, and there’s nothing on television and no movie theatres in the area, and most of what is to be found on the bookshelves are Sidney Sheldon and Leon Uris novels, and so you try a novel by an author you’ve never heard of, and it passes the time agreeably enough, so that you don’t regret having read it, exactly, though if given the choice there are hundreds and even thousands of authors you’d rather read first. Oppenheim does manage to make Mr. Sabin interesting to the reader, but most of the rest of the novel is humdrum. Oppenheim takes a 250-page plot and expands it to 400 pages, so that there are scenes of endless talking without much else happening; Oppenheim was undoubtedly trying to preserve the mystery of Mr. Sabin’s plans, but he succeeded only in draining the excitement (such as it was) from the novel. Some of the dialogue is explanatory, and other exchanges are info-dumps that require one character, usually Wolfenden, to be such an idiot that he tells an obviously untrustworthy man (Sabin) all about Lord Deringham’s work, regardless of the security risk. But then, Wolfenden is written as an idiot, so I suppose that’s okay. (Whether Oppenheim intended “Wolf” to be such a blundering moron is another question, but that’s how he ended up). The love story between Wolfenden and Helene is strictly paint-by-numbers, Oppenheim’s attempts at epigrams usually fall flat, and he carries the anti-German premise of the novel to extremes, as a way to indulge the prejudice of his audience. Most of the cast of Mysterious Mr. Sabin are swells and the idle rich, and a certain tolerance for stories of classes who have no worldly concerns is necessary to gain any enjoyment from the story. And Oppenheim is a little too much in love with his characters, although not nearly to the degree that Ouida was with Bertie Cecil in Under Two Flags. (See the Cigarette entry for more of what I mean).
The most critical of the novel’s flaws, however, is its simplistic version of espionage. I’m writing this with the advantage of over a century’s worth of fiction and non-fiction on the subject, admittedly, and I’m much more aware of the realities of espionage than Oppenheim was because of this. But Oppenheim’s ideas of how espionage, or “intrigue” in his words, is carried out are childish. In Oppenheim’s world when secrets are blabbed without any consideration who are they spoken to. In Oppenheim’s world when someone the level of quality and repute of Mr. Sabin needs to be followed, no one less than an Ambassador will do the job. In Oppenheim’s world a former Admiral who is assembling information vital to the defense of the Home Islands, is paranoid about that information, and has already suffered through several attempts to take that information, simply hands over the information to a man claiming to be a friend of his. (Yes, Sabin’s acquisition of Lord Deringham’s research really is that simple, and stupid). In Oppenheim’s world spy masters are quite willing to explain what they do and why. Oppenheim’s version of how espionage is conducted is truly laughable.
I will admit that the book is not without its interesting moments. Oppenheim slyly alludes to sex on a few occasions, and the adventuress who Sabin employs is as open as Oppenheim could get about being willing to trade sex for favors. The attitudes of Wolfenden and his friends nicely anticipate Edwardian optimism, while the constant refrain of Germany’s long loathing for and envy of England, with the subtext that England must be wary of Germany, looks almost prescient in light of World War One. (Though anticipating a clash between England and Germany was common enough in the 1880s and 1890s, so I suppose it’s not so remarkable a feat on Oppenheim’s part at that). There is also a hint of science fiction in the novel; Sabin is said to have invented “electrical contrivances unknown to the general world” which are capable of destroying Britain’s coastal defenses.
And then there’s Sabin. His ultimate goal is to be a Great Man, a Richelieu, somewhat who formulates policy and changes the course of nations and histories, and he most wants to do this in the service of Royalist France. Toward this end he will blackmail former lovers–women he feels sentimental toward, even–break the psyches of old men, use women for seduction and sacrifice the happiness and futures of innocents. He’s unscrupulous, though not without honor, and he is always a gentleman and an aristocrat. In his youth–he’s in his sixties now–he was quite popular with the ladies, and to his former lovers he is a figure to be feared. One of them, in fact, he treated badly enough that she shot him in the leg, thus leaving him lame, a fact he attributes to having a club foot, something which makes him still more Byronic. He’s suave, witty, a French patriot, a snob about England, the English, the United States and Americans. He’s a good shot, and quite willing to use a revolver and kill if he has to. He spent some years in India and China, scheming against England and Russia, and during this period acquired from an Indian fakir a magic walking stick, topped with an opal, which supposedly renders him invulnerable to attack. He’s a mechanical genius, capable of creating new and deadly weapons. And his one great enthusiasm is golf.
I can’t say that I regret reading Mysterious Mr. Sabin. But neither can I recommend it, and even Mr. Sabin himself is not on the same level of genius as Henryk Sienkiewicz’s Petronius or Anthony Skene's Zenith the Albino, two characters he has more than a little in common with.
akuragi, Captain. Captain Sakuragi is the star...well, he's not the star, the Denktei is, but never mind. The novel is Kaitei Gunkan ("Warship at the Bottom of the Sea") (1903), and it was written by Shunro Oshikawa (1876-1914, the "father of Japanese SF"). I've been unable to read Gunkan, as it’s never been translated into English, and there’s relatively little information available about it in English. Captain Sakuragi is a naval officer who grows disgusted with the Japanese government's inability to do anything to resist the imperialism of Western governments in Asia and Japan; the whites are carrying out various unnamed incivilities in Japan itself, along with the usual bullying in other countries and callously impeding Japan's ability to expand in Asia the way the whites did in, for instance, China. Sakuragi likewise sees that the Japanese government is not willing or able to do anything about the upcoming and inevitable war with the Western powers. So Sakuragi quits the Navy and goes to an isolated island off the coast of Shikoku. There he builds himself the Denktei , an "undersea battleship" armed with futuristic weapons, including torpedoes and very high explosive shells, and capable of working beneath the ocean’s waves, on the surface of the ocean, and even in flight. Sakuragi then staffs the Denktei with a small crew of faithful and patriotic sailors. In Kaitei Gunkan the Denktei demolishes a group of white pirates who have been harrying Japanese shipping. In later novels (there were several sequels) the Denktei takes on the Russian, British, and French fleets and destroys them.
alammbô. Salammbô was created by Gustave Flaubert and appeared in Salammbô (1862). Flaubert (1821-1880) is one of the major writers of the 19th century. Although he’s best known for Madame Bovary he has a respectable body of work, from short stories to dramas.
Salammbô is the story of Carthage during the time of the mercenary rebellion in 237 B.C.E. The story isn’t really about Salammbô, who is the priestess of Tanit, the moon, and the daughter of the mighty general Hamilcar Barca. Salammbô is really about the rebellion itself. Salammbô only appears as a subplot, albeit a compelling one and one which Flaubert himself saw as very important to the novel.
The mercenaries rebel against Carthage because the city elders refused to give them their pay. They are led by Mathô, a Libyan, and are opposed by first the Carthaginians and then Hamilcar Barca himself. The war is lengthy, and there is a great deal of suffering and cruelty on and from both sides. At various times the mercenaries are winning, only to suffer reversals. The mercenaries eventually lay siege to Carthage and destroy the city’s aqueduct, thus subjecting the city to thirst as well as famine, but the Carthaginians sacrifice children to Moloch, thus appeasing Moloch and bringing rains to the city. Eventually Hamilcar Barca beats the mercenaries, trapping much of their armies in a ravine in the mountains. Mathô is captured and forced to run a gauntlet through the city.
Salammbô is not central to the result of the rebellion, but she is influential on Mathô, who is desperately in love with her. Mathô breaks into Carthage to see Salammbô, but then (on the advice of his wily slave Spendius) changes his mind and steals the zaïmph, the sacred veil of Tanit. The zaïmph is not to be touched by anyone, and Mathô, by stealing it, hoped to destroy the morale of the Carthaginians. Mathô and Salammbô have a brief meeting, with Mathô telling Salammbô his feelings for her and she calling down curses and imprecations on him for defiling the zaïmph. Mathô flees the city, and the morale of Carthage is damaged, but eventually Salammbô steals into the rebels’ camp and goes to Mathô’s tent. He repeats his love for her and she hears him out and rejects him, but puts up with his kisses and caresses until he falls asleep. (Nothing more passes between them, though). She then returns to the city with the zaïmph, and Carthage is cheered. When Mathô runs the gauntlet in Carthage, he falls dead at her feet. She, remembering his words to her, feels something for him, but then drops dead “for having touched the mantle of Tanit.”
Salammbô has a lot in common, at least on a surface level with Notre Dame de Paris (see the Quasimodo entry). Like Hugo, Flaubert created a fictional world with a truly astonishing amount of detail. Flaubert spent over four years researching Carthage, and the book shows this, with a wealth of architectural, military, and social detail on every page. Like Hugo, Flaubert makes his chosen subject come alive on the page. But I found Salammbô far more involving and enjoyable to read than Notre Dame de Paris. Flaubert’s declamatory, faux-epic style is smoother and more polished (although, as always, that may be due to the translator rather than the writer) than Hugo’s more conversational tone. Hugo’s characterization is rather heavy-handed, while Flaubert’s, such as it is (this is not a novel of characterization, but of history in action), is more...okay, not subtle, but less overt and clumsy. Flaubert’s style is more impressionistic (see below). And Flaubert has the advantage of describing romantic history, rather than gritty urban history.
There is, as mentioned, an enormous amount of historical detail in Salammbô. More than that, however, Flaubert puts in endless amounts of information about sights and sounds and smells and tastes and physical feelings. Flaubert’s effort to create impressions in the minds of the readers, to make the smells and sounds waft from the page, is not wasted; Salammbô is peculiarly vivid and atmospheric, and although it ultimately is exotic and alien to modern readers (less so to readers of fantasy and science fiction, to whom alien worlds are almost cliche) it is very absorbing and real-feeling.
Finally, there’s Salammbô herself. Flaubert described her as “a maniac controlled by a fixed idea.” She’s obsessed with Tanit, the moon, and spends much of her time just looking at the stars and the moon. She’s appalled when the zaïmph is stolen. But, like Flaubert’s Emma, Salammbô is disillusioned when she finally touches the sacred veil. Salammbô is really just a young woman filled with inchoate urges and longings. She’s chaste but curious, decadent in her reveling in her clothes and makeup but ignorant of lust, and innocently oblivious to the reality of the war outside Carthage. It is Mathô’s words which really touch her, but she remains an innocent to the end, wise in the ways of the gods but naive about humanity.
Salammbô is a work I intend to return to, once the great mass of reading I have yet to do for this site (60+ novels in ten months--oy!) is over. It's very entertaining, albeit in a Tolkienian way. Even better is the fact that many of the older copies of Salammbô are beautifully illustrated. The edition I read, with black-and-white drawings by Mahlon Blaine, was a very nice piece of literary art.
andokan. Sandokan the pirate was the creation of Emilio Salgari (1863-1911), an Italian writer of adventure fiction. From Verona, Salgari produced many novels, not just of Sandokan but of other heroic and swashbuckling characters, including that of an Indian prince and his sidekick tiger, but never knew financial success during his life and died in heartbreaking poverty, committing suicide. His greatest creation was the corsair Sandokan. Sandokan appeared in eleven novels from 1895 to 1913: The Mysteries of the Black Jungle (1895), The Pirates of Malaysia (1896), The Tigers of Mompracem (1900), The Two Novels (1904), The King of the Sea (1906), To Conquer an Empire (1907), Sandokan's Return (1907), The Reconquest of Mompracem (1908), The Brahmin of Assam (1911), The Fall of an Empire (1911), and Yanez's Revenge (1913). Sandokan is the son of the former rajah of a prosperous (but nameless) Malaysian state, but when Sandokan's father and family are attacked and slaughtered, the guards--the personal guards of James Brooke, the English Governor of the island of Labuan--did nothing. Sandokan goes to live with his faithful old teacher, but after dreaming of the deaths of his family resolves to search out Brooke and find out why Brooke betrayed Sandokan's father.
Sandokan takes to sea as a ship's boy on a steamer for Labaun. Sandokan and his best friend Janez, a Portuguese wanderer, escape from a trap set by Brooke and set ashore on Mompracem, an island that later becomes their hideout. They first have to capture it from a band of pirates, who are so impressed by the courage of Sandokan and Janez that they join them, becoming "the young tigers of Malaysia."
Sandokan begins a Robin Hood-like life of piracy, picking up a girlfriend, Marian, along the way. That Marian is James Brooke's niece does not, in the end, threaten their relationship, for they get married, he proposing to her with a gift of extremely opulent rubies. After fighting Thugs in India (in the dreaded Black Jungle), sorcerers, the English, the jungles of Malaysia, Honorata, the descendant of Circe, the slopes of the Himalayas, and various lost peoples, restoring at least one deposed princess of Assam to her throne along the way, Sandokan defeats Brooke and his flunkies and regains the kingdom taken from his father. The events take place in 1849 and the years following.
It is a shame that Salgari's work has never been translated into English, since he well deserves the place of esteem held him by fans of Italian adventure fiction. Sandokan's stories are brisk and invigorating, adventurous in the pulp tradition and, basically, a lot of fun.
A very nice site on Salgari and Sandokan.
An e-text of The Adventures of Sandokan (in Italian, I'm afraid).
The Tiger of Malaysia
An e-text of Sandokan! In English! Mirabile dictu!
andorf, Count Mathias. Sandorf appeared in Mathias Sandorf (1885), written by Jules Verne, for more information on whom look in the Robur entry. The first part of the novel is set in 1867 Trieste, where two petty criminals intercept (by chance) a carrier pigeon. In its message cylinder they find a ciphered message; once they break the cipher they discover that the message contains the details of a plot to overthrow the Austro-Hungarian government in Hungary and replace it with an independent state. The two criminals meet with a corrupt banker and rat out the conspirators to the police, gaining themselves a rich reward. The major conspirators, including Count Sandorf, are arrested and sentenced to death; they escape, but after a violent encounter with the military are presumed dead.
The second part of the novel leaps forward fifteen years. Sandorf, in his new identity as the "renowned physician Dr. Antekirtt," carries out his revenge (he calls it "justice;" it's all very Count of Monte Cristo--deliberately so on Verne's part) on those who betrayed him and ruined his plans. He does this from his fortress on the island of Antekirtta, in the Gulf of Syria. The fortress is almost impenetrable and is filled with advanced weaponry, including electrically-operated torpedoes and mines. Sandorf, as Antekirtt, travels about the Mediterranean in very fast electrical boats, which help him (as does his fortress) when the neighboring island of Senoussi declares war on him. (They fail, of course). Sandorf also has great hypnotic ability; he is able to put people in hypnotic trances and control them, even at long distances.
aux, the Vicomte de. The Vicomte de Saux appeared in The Red Cockade (1896), which was written by the one and only Stanley Weyman. Weyman (1855-1928) was a Brit, an unsuccessful lawyer who turned to writing to support himself. With the help of Andrew Lang his first book, House of the Wolf, was published and his fortune made. That was in 1890. For about a little over a decade after that he was enormously successful, the "English Dumas," producing one memorable swashbuckling historical romance after another. His work, as J.A.S. says (see the link below), represents "the perfection of the form." Quoting J.A.S. again:
Weyman's great contribution to perfecting the historical romance in it's purest "swashbuckler" mode was to take all that was most thrilling about Alexander Dumas & Sir Walter Scott & get rid of everything that was tedious. That is not to say he made it simpler; he evaded stating the obvious, he used correct history as background without lecturing about it, he was never a blow-hard. He depended on environment & momentous occasion to guide the characters through a story. This resulted in a swift, forward-moving & suspenseful plot punctuated with action, heroism, witticism, & romance both of the high adventure-sort & the sort that requires a leading lady.Weyman, as far as I can tell, never wrote any serial characters, and so I'm using the Vicomte de Saux and The Red Cockade as representatives of his work as a whole. The Vicomte is an impetuous, passionate, immature and headstrong 22 year old noble in France on the eve of the Revolution. He is a forward thinker, or at least as much of one as a member of the French nobility could have been in those days: he removes the carcan (pillory) from his estates and believes that the nobles' tyranny of the people cannot continue forever. However, when the troubles start, the Vicomte is frustratingly (to me, anyhow) wishy-washy. He can't decide whether he wants to support his fellow nobility (who are depicted as being most annoying superior and unlikeable, something the Vicomte himself sees and acknowledges) or The People (who are brutal and coarse and, y'know, not nobility, which matters to the Vicomte). Complicating matters is the presence of Denise, Mademoiselle St. Alais, a lovely 17 year old fresh from the convent. She's been promised to the Vicomte in marriage since both were children, and almost as soon as they see each other they realize they have feelings for each other. Denise's brother, the Marquis St. Alais, is a staunch supporter of the nobility and the Vicomte's old friend; when the Vicomte refuses to automatically support the nobility and suppress the rebellion, the Marquis cuts him off and forbids him to marry Denise.
Things get complicated from there. But the Vicomte, while not exactly passive, is hardly a master of any situation, and is more often acted upon than the controller of actions. This was somewhat surprising to me, as I was expecting full-blooded swashbuckling, with sword fights and swinging from chandeliers. But Weyman goes for a character study instead, which makes this a better book, if not quite as lightheartedly enjoyable. (When the Vicomte, the Marquis, Denise, and a bunch of other Catholics are trapped in an alley by a band of pike-wielding rebels, the end result is that the Vicomte is knocked out and everyone but the Marquis, Denise, and her mother are slaughtered. Realistic and not fun). The Red Cockade is really very good, and while I wasn't exactly surprised, not with the build-up that J.A.S. gave Weyman, I was pleased to see that my expectations were not disappointed. Dear Reader, go out and find some Weyman to read, either The Red Cockade or Under the Red Robe or A Gentleman of France. You won't be sorry you did.
On Stanley Weyman
An excellent and very informative essay on Weyman and other "Yellow Nineties Swashbuckling Romancers." By Jessica A. Salmonson.
awyer, Jr., Quincy Adams. Quincy Adams Sawyer Jr. was created by Charles Felton Pidgin and appeared in Quincy Adams Sawyer and Mason’s Corner Folks (1900), The Further Adventures of Quincy Adams and Mason’s Corner Folks (1909), and The Chronicles of Quincy Adams Sawyer, Detective (1912). Pidgin (1844-1923) wrote mostly mainstream fiction, although his Quincy Adams Sawyer stories were particularly successful, being reproduced on stage and screen. Pidgin was also an inventor and is a notable figure in the early history of statistical tabulating machines.
Pidgin changed certain aspects of Sawyer’s character as the series progressed. The first novel is set in “186-,” while the later stories are contemporaneous with when they were published. In the first novel Sawyer is visiting Mason’s Corner in southeastern Mass. and ends up marrying Alice, a local woman, moving to Mason’s Corner, and eventually being elected Governor. These events are ignored in the later stories, when Sawyer becomes a consulting detective living in the Boston area. The first novel is not really a mystery, but rather a love story and slice-of-life novel about small town New England. The later stories are open mysteries in the Sherlock Holmes vein.
The basics of Sawyer’s personality and character remain the same throughout the series, however. Quincy Adams Sawyer, Jr., is a gentlemen, the descendant of several generations of New England families. “His ancestors were tradesmen, merchants, lawyers, politicians, and Presidents. He, too, was proud of his honored ancestry.” His mother was a Quincy, and his father, who had a “world wide reputation as a constitutional lawyer,” was an Adams, and they combined the names for Quincy. Quincy looks like a gentleman; he has “dark hair, dark eyes, and a small black mustache curled at the ends. His face was pallid, but there was a look of determination in the firmly set jaw, resolute mouth, and sharp eye. He wore a dark suit with a Prince Albert coat." Just as the stories are very influenced by Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, so is Quincy influenced by Holmes. He’s a consulting detective, very smart (much more so than those around him, including his best chum police Inspector Gates), well traveled, and very well educated; he’s a Harvard graduate who studied widely and so, like Holmes, is an expert on a number of different subjects. He’s athletically fit, being a good shot and a very good boxer. He’s a favorite in city society. And he has a quiet good humor and a sense of modesty which is rather welcome considering his other attributes. As a detective he is essentially a Holmes clone.
catchard, Isaac. Isaac Scatchard was created by Wilkie Collins and appeared in “The Dream Woman” (originally “The Ostler,” Household Words, Christmas Number 1855). Collins (1824-1889) is the creator of Sergeant Cuff, and I have some information on him there. Isaac Scatchard is a withered old man who has sorrow in his past. As a younger man (in his late 30s, which, being the same age as I am now, seems younger rather than older to me) he was notoriously unlucky with jobs, always through no fault of his own. He had never had a sweetheart, and in fact the only thing good about his life was his dear mother. One night Isaac is awakened by a dreadful series of sensations and sees a woman with a knife in her hand about to stab him. She tries twice, but he rolls out of the way each time. The candle lighting the room goes out, and when it is relit the woman is gone. Isaac is frightened by this, as is his mother, who demands all the details from the dream about what the woman looks like, but as time passes Isaac forgets about the dream. His mother, however, does not, and when, some months later, Isaac stops a woman, Rebecca Murdoch, from killing herself and then falls in love with her and brings her home to meet his mother, Mrs. Scatchard is horrified, as Rebecca completely resembles the murderous woman Isaac saw. But Isaac is in love with Rebecca and marries her, and so Mrs. Scatchard never sees her daughter in law. Eventually Isaac’s relationship with Rebecca sours, and they fight, and he ends up hitting her, and then she stalks out of the house, vowing never to see him again. That night Isaac feels the same horrible sensations that he did before his first vision, and when he awakens he sees Rebecca standing next to his bed with the knife in her hand. He stops her from stabbing him and then leaves his house and has it sold. But when he went to look for her she was gone, and though he paid the police to trace her she was gone. Since then he has dreamed about her almost every night; his sleep is very troubled, for he is sure that she is looking for him.
“The Dream Woman” is a good story of pastoral haunting. It’s not particularly outstanding; Collins does a good job of conjuring up a rural atmosphere, he concisely brings Isaac to life, his style is a very readable one, and the basic scenario is a good one for a horror story. But I didn’t find the story particularly memorable in any way. (This is one of those stories I’m having hard time finding much to say about).
Poor Isaac Scatchard. He’s not particularly bright or lucky, but he does love his mother and he takes his defeats with a polite resignation. When he has good luck, it seems almost too good to be true, and when his wife reveals herself to be a drunk and a shrew he lashes out in anger, only to be haunted and worn down before his time. Poor guy.
chalckenburg, Professor Heinrich von. The good Professor was introduced in The Log of the "Flying Fish." A Story of Aerial and Submarine Peril and Adventure (1887), written by "Harry Collingwood," the pseudonym of William Joseph Cosens Lancaster (1851-1922). Lancaster was a prolific writer of British boys' fiction; he was a civil engineer specializing in harbor work, and much of his fiction reflected this, being nautical in nature. Schalckenburg also appears in two sequels to The Log of the "Flying Fish": With Airship and Submarine. A Tale of Adventure (1907) and The Cruise of the "Flying Fish," The Airship-Submarine (1924), but they are after the time limits of this site as well as being not really worth discussion.
Schalckenburg is a great German scientist. During a discussion at the Migrants' Club in London, a club of explorers and “wanderers upon the face of the earth,” Schalckenburg reveals that he is contemptuous of explorers who use lighter-than-air crafts, esp. balloons, and states that only heavier-than-air ships will be capable of navigating the skies. In response to doubters he reveals that he has invented two new things which will overcome the problems of heavier-than-air ships. The first is "æthereum," a new, very light metal. It looks like polished silver and is incredibly strong, “exactly one hundred dimes thad of the besd sdeel.” The second invention is a crystalline substance that works as an explosive (when ground into a powder and mixed with a certain acid) and as a source of gas and electricity when treated in certain ways. With these two inventions he can build a flying ship...but he needs £100,000 to do so. Sir Reginald Elphinstone, a wealthy, square-jawed British adventurer type and Migrants' Club member, instantly agrees and forks over the money, and the professor designs his vessel. Unfortunately, attempts to build it using British labor fail, as British workmen are hopelessly lazy, given to strikes, “despicable” besides, the Professor imports workers from Germany to put together the aircraft. (A decidedly odd note, especially given that Lancaster was himself British and, as best I've been able to find out, not notably anti-working class).
The end result is the Flying Fish, a six-hundred-feet long metal cylinder, sixty feet in diameter at its middle; it works by "creating a vacuum lift" and is submersible, traveling at 120 mph through the air and 150 mph underwater (where it is propelled by a “powerful three-cylinder pump”). The Flying Fish also has small "launches" that work like jets, although it is not capable of great speed. The Fish is armed with torpedoes, cannon, and six “magazine rifles invented by a Mr. Maxim, a friend of mine.” For underwater work Schalckenberg creates diving armor made of æthereum and armed with battery-powered electrified daggers.
Schalckenberg, Elphinstone, and Elphinstone's two friends, Cyril Lethbridge (ex-Colonel of the Royal Engineers) and Lt. Edward Mildmay, R.N., take the Flying Fish on its maiden cruise, going over six miles up in the atmosphere (the world record) and ninety-four fathoms down, to the bottom of the Hurd Deep. The group salvages various naval wrecks (including one of a friend of Schalckenberg), fights off savage aquatic monsters (including vicious conger-eels), rescues the crew of an ice-locked barque, discovers the remains of a centuries-old Viking longboat and its crew, and finds a warm sea in the North Pole in whose center is an island stocked with wildlife. (The Vikings got there first, greatly disappointing the crew of the Flying Fish). Schalckenberg et al discover a herd of mammoth and promptly wipe out half of them--mammoth are good hunting! (Schalckenberg and the others are great hunters and quite happy to slaughter whatever animals they find, either for food or to bring samples back to civilization, but, interestingly, they are far more merciful to a school of whales they discover, the Professor being "very rigid in his objection to he wanton sacrifice of life.") They also find a bed of diamonds and harvest them.
After marking the exact spot of the North Pole the group return to England. They publicize their first trip, the Professor donating a mammoth hide to “an eminent taxidermist” and delivering a paper on “The Open Polar Sea” to the Royal Society. And then they move on to Africa, where Schalckenberg aims to locate unicorns and the site of King Solomon's Ophir. Naturally, they do, also killing large numbers of animals and rescuing a group of Englishwomen from the marital aims of a tribal king. (Lancaster’s treatment of native Africans is neither more or less racist than most other, similar works. The native king with whom they deal and who they cow into submission is intelligent, but obese and cruel, and the natives themselves are childlike and lazy).
The final trip of the Flying Fish is to Mount Everest, and then it's back to England and the Migrants' Club, the Flying Fish being safely parked beneath the waves of the English Channel.
The Log of the "Flying Fish" is somewhat typical late Victorian boys’ adventure material. Lancaster spends a good deal of time explaining how the ship works, so that we might guess that he was consciously emulating Verne. Unfortunately, Lancaster modeled himself on the master too well, and also copied Verne’s unfortunate tendencies toward infodumps and shallow characterization. Schalckenberg is a different character entirely from Nemo, and Lancaster lacks Verne’s genius at description and his ability to convey the wonder of travel. The Log of the "Flying Fish" has vast thickets of dense prose which the reader needs to hack through to reach the interesting bits–but they aren’t worth the effort. The reader is no doubt meant to share the preening and exultation of Schalckenberg and the others in their explorations, but the novel and the characters lack verve and life, so that what was successful enough, a century and more ago, to spawn two sequels is only tedious today.
Schalckenberg is a bit on the irascible side. He speaks with an accent (“Begause, my dear zir, the aeronauts have never yed realized all the requirements of zuccess”) which gets more distracting the further into the book one goes. He is boastful and vain, although justifiably proud of his achievements. He’s a somewhat stiff moralist with a lumbering sense of humor and a very Victorian set of morals. One might almost call him a prig. He is fallible, however, at one point forgetting to moor the ship despite bad weather (which develops into a hurricane), and is at least honest enough to admit his failings, few though they are.
chedoni, Father. Father Schedoni was created by Ann Radcliffe and appeared in The Italian; or, the Confessional of the Black Penitents (1797). Radcliffe (1764-1823) was one of the great early Gothic writers and was, with Matthew Lewis, responsible for the two basic kinds of Gothics. Radcliffe is best known for The Mysteries of Udolpho (see the Count Montoni entry), but The Italian is regarded by critics as her best work. I felt differently.
The Italian is about the course of love not running smooth (at all) between Vincentio di Vivaldi, a proud but well-meaning young Neapolitan noble, and Ellena di Rosalba, an innocent young woman who Vincentio falls in love with almost immediately. They meet by accident, and Vincentio is quite taken with her, but his attempt to visit her at her home is unsuccessful. Vincentio tries again at night and watches her through a lattice. She whispers his name but when he reveals himself she closes the lattice on him. When he returns to Naples a figure in a monk’s robe sidles up to him as he passes a broken archway and warns him against visiting Ellena again. Vincentio believes this person to be a rival for Ellena’s affections, a conviction which grows when the man in the monk’s robe warns him again the following night. Vincentio decides to defeat his rival by proposing to Ellena, but her aunt, Signora Bianchi, reminds him that he comes from a much nobler family than Ellena and that his relatives would object to the match. Vincentio knows this to be true but is smitten with Ellena and argues his case so forcefully that Signora Bianchi eventually gives in and, after several of Vincentio’s visits, places Ellena’s hand in his, and the wedding is planned for the following week. But Vincentio’s parents, the Marchese and Marchesa di Vivaldi, know what he’s up to and try to persuade him, with logic and scorn, to marry someone closer to his rank, but Vincentio’s a love struck fool and won’t be denied his Ellena. So the Marchesa turns to her confessor, Father Schedoni, for advice. The day after the engagement is affirmed Vincentio is on his way to visit Ellena when the man in the monk’s robe warns him not to visit Ellena, for “death is in the house.” Vincentio continues on, to find that Signora Bianchi had died the night before. A servant tells Vincentio that she thinks the Signora was poisoned, and Vincentio almost immediately suspects Schedoni, who Vincentio dislikes. Vincentio confronts Schedoni, but he is too clever for Vincentio and makes the youth feel bad for accusing the monk and even apologize to Schedoni.
Ellena is planning to stay at a local convent after her aunt’s funeral, but while packing she is kidnaped by three masked men, who take her to a convent in the mountains, where she is kept in solitary. Vincentio and his friend decide to explore the ruined fortress next to the shattered arch, and they find the figure in the monk’s robe, who tells them that Ellena had left town. They pursue the monk, but he manages to trap the pair in a chamber for the night. The next morning Vincentio, now worried about Ellena, goes to visit her and discovers that she has been kidnaped. Vincentio confronts Schedoni at his convent and is prevented from assaulting him only by the other monks. But Vincentio gets a clue to Ellena’s whereabouts from a fisherman and goes in pursuit of her. After three days of imprisonment Ellena is given a choice: take the veil, or marry the man that the Marchesa di Vivaldi has chosen as her husband. Ellena refuses to make that choice, but is told by a friendly nun that if she continues to refuse she’ll be forced to become a nun immediately. Vivaldi eventually finds the convent Ellena is being held in, but he is unable to rescue her. The abbess decides to send the stubborn Ellena into a “hideous chamber” from which no nun has ever emerged alive. The friendly nun, Olivia, helps Ellena escape, and Vivaldi and Ellena go on the run, pursued by two Carmelite friars.
While all this is going on the Marchese, who doesn’t know that about the Marchesa’s schemes, is worrying about Vincentio. The Marchesa is worrying about her plans for her son being ruined, and so when Schedoni suggests that Ellena be murdered, the Marchesa is at first appalled and then agreeable. When Vincentio and Ellena are on the verge of marriage they are arrested by the Inquisition, with Vincentio sent to Rome and Ellena sent in a different direction. She is imprisoned in a house on the shore and visited by a monk who turns out to be Schedoni. He resolves to kill her, but when he attempts to, by knifing her as she sleeps, he sees the miniature around her neck. He wakes her and asks who that is, and she says that it’s her father. Who is, of course, Schedoni himself. (What, it’s a Gothic: of *course* you’re going to have this sort of revelation). Schedoni is shaken by this revelation and tries to make amends. He leaves Ellena at her house in Naples and then meets with the Marchesa and asks her to give her permission for Ellena and Vincentio to marry. She ignores him, and so he decides to marry the pair himself.
In the prisons of the Inquisition Vincentio meets the man who wore the monk’s robe and warned him against visiting Ellena. This man tells Vincentio to tell the Inquisition that Schedoni was actually the Count Ferando di Bruno and that Vincentio should also ask the “grand penitentiary” of the Black Penitents, Schedoni’s order, to relate the contents of a certain confession he’d heard years before. Vivaldi did this, and Schedoni was arrested on the way to Rome. At Schedoni’s trial the truth is made known: that the Count di Bruno, envious of his brother’s title, riches, and wife, killed his brother and took his brother’s wife by force. The wife married Schedoni, but he killed her when he found her with a visitor who Schedoni thought was the woman’s lover. This was what the grand penitentiary had heard in the confession. Schedoni continues to insist Ellena is his daughter, but Sister Olivia (who you’ll remember helped Ellena escape) testifies that she was the Count di Bruno’s wife (the wound he gave her was not mortal after all) had had two children, one by her first husband and one by her second, and had given both to the care of Signora Bianchi. Schedoni’s daughter died a year later, but Ellena, the daughter of the first Count di Bruno, did not. Schedoni poisons himself but clears Vincentio as he dies, and so Vincentio marries Ellena.
As I mentioned up above, The Italian is viewed by the critics as Radcliffe’s best work and one of the best of the Gothics. The former is true, the latter is not.
In some ways The Italian is an improvement on The Mysteries of Udolpho. Radcliffe’s style isn’t quite so stilted, her prose quicker and easier to read, with less emphasis on descriptions of landscape and more emphasis on characterization. The plot, though far more complicated than in Udolpho, is more quickly set in motion and sustained at a more even pace. Radcliffe does not give in to the temptation to lecture the reader via her characters. She tries to make character (Schedoni) rather than object (landscape, portraits, the castle) the cause of fright in the reader, something critics see as a move away from “sublimity’ but which modern readers will respond to more easily. And the overall level of skillfulness in the writing is higher than in Udolpho.
But I found The Italian far less interesting than Udolpho. Radcliffe makes a good faith effort at characterization, so that Schedoni has more depth than Count Montoni and Vincentio more sides than Udolpho’s Valancourt (Ellena is as one-dimensional and perfunctory as Udolpho’s Emily St. Aubert, however), but Radcliffe does not succeed in making them interesting or in making Vincentio or Ellena more than stock characters. It may be that my recent reading of The Monk (see the Ambrosio entry) has unfairly prejudiced me, but I thought Radcliffe’s refusal to make Schedoni the protagonist of The Italian, as Lewis did with Ambrosio in The Monk, hampered the novel. Schedoni plays a much larger role in The Italian than Count Montoni did in Udolpho, but Vincentio and Ellena are the protagonists, not Schedoni, and Vincentio and Ellena are simply not as involving to read about as Schedoni is. Heroes needn’t be boring, but Radcliffe’s are, and her focus on them and the heroines, who function as plot devices more than anything else, is a mistake.
Obviously she would not have seen it that way. Her views on the proper Gothic were different from mine but also from Matthew Lewis. It’s fairly clear that Radcliffe wrote The Italian as a reaction not just to her own critics, who were less than kind to Udolpho, but also to The Monk, whose violence, blasphemy, and sexual explicitness, to say nothing of its resulting popularity, must have alarmed her. (The Monk was highly controversial, of course, but it was a definite sensation and quite popular, if in a disreputable way). Radcliffe’s views of the proprieties, of what was fitting for the Gothic, were greatly at odds with Lewis’, and so The Italian is Radcliffe’s answer to Lewis. But Radcliffe was seemingly incapable of understanding–or, perhaps, the ideas of taste which she and her contemporaries shared–that restraint in a Gothic is deadly to the reader’s interest. The Monk, for all its flaws, is vibrant with life and fire. By comparison, The Italian is dull and muted, and Radcliffe’s attempts to give different sides to Vincentio and Schedoni and to set a more even pace can’t compensate for that.
I mentioned, in the Count Montoni entry, that there is a critical consensus about Radcliffe as a writer of the “female Gothic,” which is usually compared to the “male Gothic.” This is no postmodern critical judgment, however; even during the 18th century the Gothic was thought of in sexual, gendered terms. The form had a large female readership, and many of its writers, from Radcliffe to Mary Shelley, were women. Beyond that, though, Gothic stories are usually classified as “male Gothics” or “female Gothics,” usually depending on the sex of the story’s author. The female Gothic is a Bildungsroman, a coming-of-age story for the female protagonist, with Sensibility, in the 18th century sense, as a dominant concern of the story and often with a male authority figure as the villain. The male Gothic, conversely, puts the male figure at the center of a story of social transgression and all too often reduces the heroine to the status of object, to be threatened, sexually and physically, rescued, and married. The Mysteries of Udolpho was one of the earliest of the female Gothics. The Monk was a powerful response to that and a quintessential male Gothic. Radcliffe, responding to The Monk, wrote a male Gothic in The Italian, with Vincentio being the subject of the Bildungsroman theme, but failed to make it as interesting or lively as her female Gothic. My view of The Italian is, of course, a very modern one. Previous generations of critics and writers have thought highly of the work, and Radcliffe is generally seen by critics to have been highly influential on her contemporaries and the next generation of writers, even including Sir Walter Scott.
Father Schedoni is a character in the mode of the Hero-Villain, ala the Miltonic Satan, Ambrosio, and the later Melmoth the Wanderer. He is, like them, a mixture of great capabilities & potential and weaknesses and unchecked urges. Although Ambrosio is more alive to the reader, both in the context of the story and to the modern reader, it was Schedoni who captured the imagination of Radcliffe's contemporaries. Schedoni has a brooding grandeur to accompany his melancholy guilt, a deliberate hearkening to Milton's Satan and an anticipation of the Hero-Villain in his prime, both as Byron and as Melmoth. Schedoni is defiant at the end, robbing the Inquisition of its torture in fine high style, but he is not completely evil, feeling regrets at various points along the way and unable, for pity’s sake, to kill Ellena when he has the chance. He is a sophist and manipulator to the Marchesa, but his decision to help Vincentio is honestly meant. His is a more sophisticated and refined evil than Ambrosio’s, for Schedoni is much more a man of the world than Ambrosio, and Schedoni’s sin is ambition, while Ambrosio’s is simple lust; Ambrosio's desires are primarily self-indulgent and self-destructive, while Schedoni's ambition can only harm others. But Ambrosio’s evil, and emotions, are more unalloyed, more thorough, while Schedoni is a combination of malignity and melancholia and guilt.
chultz, Dr. Dr. Schultz was created by Edward Jenkins and appeared in A Week of Passion; or, the Dilemma of Mr. George Barton the Younger (1884). Jenkins (1838-1910) was a British politician and writer best known for the satire Ginx’s Baby.
A Week of Passion is another of the anarchism novels (see for example the Mr. Lampooner entry). It begins well, with an anarchist strike in London and a chilling description of the fine mist of blood coating the bystanders, and then a human hand, sent flying by the explosion, landing in an upper-storey office. Jenkins turns his attention to the identity of the only man slain in the explosion; he was literally vaporized, so that his identity cannot be reconstructed. Unfortunately the novel quickly declines from there. The first 200 pages of the novel are not about Schultz of the anarchists at all; they are first a Victorian police procedural and then a more conventional mystery about an inheritance swindle, involving George Barton, Jr. (son of the titular Barton), Pollard and Pollard, the crooked solicitors doing Barton Jr. out of the money due him, Barton Jr.’s love affair with Blanche, and the solving of the mystery of the swindle and the lawyers. It emerges that Dr. Schultz was hired by Pollard and Pollard to blow up George Barton, Sr., because Barton had evidence of their crimes.
The novel, as I said, starts well but then runs aground on the shoals of Jenkins’ prolixity and tendency to belabor moments. Jenkins does speak sympathetically about the policeman’s lot, especially when dealing with pompous politicians, and Dr. Schultz himself is interesting for the brief periods he appears, but on the whole A Week of Passion is uninteresting after the early goings.
Dr. Schultz, a German, is a genius, a well-educated philosopher, scientist, chemist, and inventor. “From a boy...his main pleasure was to mystify and circumvent anyone who had any authority over him.” He "might have made a fortune, for he is immensely clever. If anyone could have discovered the philosopher's stone, or the transmutation of metals, he was the man." But all that can be credited to him are some exquisite dyes, a new process of bleaching, a rifle cartridge (which the German army adopted), a new process for mixing metals, some "wonderful imitations of gold and silver"...and a type of small crystal bomb, which "when broken would send forth an odour so deadly and powerful that all living things within its influence perished." Schulz is not a good guy; he is, in addition to being an anarchist, a "perfect dare-devil" who "continues the work of Satan by sowing the seeds of evil in the world." He is a “Socialist and Anarchist,” or professed to be. In truth he"would commit a crime...simply for the excitement and peril of the thing." He hires himself out for private as well as political purposes; while he is a committed anti-aristocrat, he needs money and will perform private murders, as with the unfortunate George Barton Sr. He is mixed up with various secret societies as well as “clubs of the most dangerous criminals in England and the Continent.” He is responsible for at least six murders, but when he tried to kill the German emperor he only killed two German policemen and three of Schultz's anarchist collaborators. The explosion would have killed him, as well, if he weren’t “as strong as a bull.” After the attempt on the German emperor he left for France and then made his way to England. He was too clever for the English police and escaped capture in Fulham, going to ground in London. He is sarcastic and superior, but at the end of the story is captured on a stolen yacht.
chuyler, Philip. Philip Schuyler, along with his compatriots Andrew Bates and Aleck Huggins, were introduced in "Under the Gulf; or, the Strange Voyage of the Torpedo Boat," which appeared in the 5 September 1889 issue of Nugget Library; they reappeared in its sequel, "Phil and His Torpedo Boat; or, a Terrible Cruise Under the Ocean," which appeared in the 23 January 1890 issue of the Nugget Library. They were written by "Harry St. George," a pseudonym of St. George Rathbone (1854-1938), a very prolific author of dime novels who published perhaps 300 or more novels under his own names and under pseudonyms and who worked as Editor at Street and Smith for a time; among the characters he wrote was Buffalo Bill, the Camp Fire Boys, the Lend-a-Hand Boys, and the Pioneer Boys.
Schuyler is an inventor who has created plans for a very advanced submarine, the Vampire. It is equipped with powerful electric engines, air and water generators, rams, external tentacles (for manipulating rocks), and torpedoes. Of course, being a poor inventor he can't actually build the thing, so he contacts two friends of his, Andrew Bates, an electrician, and Aleck Huggins, a financier. Together they build the Vampire. In the first story they take on board John Ainsworth, the narrator and a newspaper reporter, who accompanies them on their trip. They go into the Gulf of Mexico and retrieve vast amounts of sunken treasure (from Spanish shipwrecks) and the corpse of Philip's father (who went down in a more modern wreck) and tangle with sea serpents and Mexicans. In the second story they investigate the Maelstrom, and discover an underground tunnel at its bottom that leads to a polar exit. They make the trip, blast their way through various horrid sea creatures, some lizard like, some serpentine, and one very odd race of almost Cthulhuian fish-men, and make it to the North Pole, where they find a temperate sea in which is a huge island full of "Eskimos," who have an agriculturally-based society but are hostile and warlike. And there the stories ends.
cott, Michael. Michael Scott was actually a real person; this page, which is a section of 101 Great Scots, gives information on him. But the literary Scott is if anything more interesting than the real one. The literary Scott appears in Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy – Inferno in Canto XX:
The next, who is so slender in the flanks,
Was Michael Scott, who of a verity
Of magical illusions knew the game.
Even that, though, wouldn’t be enough to get him on these pages. No, he’s here because he appears in James Hogg’s The Three Perils of Man, or, War, Women and Witchcraft: A Border Romance (1823). Hogg (1770-1835) was a Scots poet, editor, and writer who wrote a variety of works. Hogg was friends with Sir Walter Scott and was known, derisively, as the “Ettrick Shepherd” during his lifetime, but his reputation has climbed since then.
The Three Perils of Man is set in Scotland during the reign of Robert the Bruce (1306-1329), when Sir Ringan Redough and his border reivers are trying to take back Roxburgh Castle from the English. Sir Ringan is reluctant to join the battle against the English, so he sends men to Scott’s very Gothic castle at Aikwood, to beg from Scott (in The Three Perils a wizard and warlock, and not a good person—he employs imps and demons) knowledge of the battle’s outcome. Scott hosts a feast for the men, but witchcraft somewhat spoils the evening; the food disappears when touched and the seneschal of Scott's castle is blown to bits with gunpowder solely to entertain Scott's guests. They're so entertained that another feast is held. Scott then declares his purpose to establish himself as the Antichrist. This is too much for an English friar with the men, who challenges Scott to a magical duel. Mountains are split asunder, men are transformed into bulls and then back into human shape, other men are split “into twa.” The friar falls to Scott's might, but then Satan appears. Scott challenged the Horned One, with (as might be expected) unfortunate results for Scott. Hordes of little red devils attack him, "hosts of crawling monsters," and then finally "the great dragon" picks him up and tries to carry him off. Scott hits him with his golden rod, but falls from a very high space to his death.
cudéry, Mademoiselle de. Mademoiselle de Scudéry was created by E.T.A. Hoffmann and appeared in “Mademoiselle de Scudéry” (from Taschenbuch der Liebe und Freundschaft Gewidmet, 1819). Hoffmann (1776-1822) was a German writer and composer. He was very influential on the German Romantic movement and was the creator of Doctor Coppelius and Frederick von R----. The Mme de Scudéry of Hoffmann’s story is based on Madeleine de Scudéry (1607?-1701), the French wit, salonist, and novelist, but is, of necessity, a fictionalized version of the real thing, involving an event that never took place.
“Mademoiselle de Scudéry” begins when, late one night, a man bangs on the door to Mme. de Scudéry’s house, demanding to see her. Scudéry’s lady’s maid lets the man in but refuses to allow him to see Scudéry, and so he’s forced to only leave his package with the maid rather than give it to Scudéry directly. The package is a small casket. When Scudéry opens the box she finds a gorgeous pair of bracelets and an equally stunning necklace inside. Because Paris is suffering from a plague of crime, where men and women are assaulted in the streets and often killed and their jewelry taken from them, and because there is a note in the box which says, “We only exercise the right of the stronger over the weak and the cowardly in order to appropriate to ourselves treasures that would else be disgracefully squandered,” Scudéry is convinced that the jewelry is the product of crime, and so refuses to accept them. She shows them to a friend, who tells her that they must have been made by the brilliant and eccentric goldsmith René Cardillac. Cardillac is notorious for being very reluctant to give up the jewelry he’s been paid to make. Cardillac is sent for and admits that the jewels are his, but insists that Scudéry keep them, since she inspired their creation. She accepts, reluctantly. Some months later Scudéry and her maid are riding in a coach when a man runs up to the coach, pulls its door open, throws a piece of paper on to Scudéry’s lap, and then runs away. The man was the same one who delivered the casket to her, and the note tells her that she must return the necklace and bracelets to Cardillac, that her life depends on it, and that if she hasn’t done so in 48 hours he (the writer of the note) will go to her house and kill himself.
Scudéry is delayed in going to Cardillac, and by the time she arrives at his shop she discovers a crowd already there, Cardillac murdered, his assistant, Olivier Brusson, being taken away for Cardillac’s murder, and Olivier’s lover and Cardillac’s daughter Madelon in tears. Madelon is sure Olivier is innocent, and convinces Scudéry of his innocence, but when Scudéry meets with the dreaded La Regnie, the president of the Star Chamber-like Chambre Ardente, he describes the evidence against Olivier, which is damning. Scudéry finds her faith shaken and asks to see Olivier. He is brought to her house and once there he reveals that he is the son of an old friend of hers and that she knew him when he was a boy. He also tells her his story, about how he was apprenticed to Cardillac but was fired for his love affair with Madelon. Olivier then discovered, quite by accident, that it was Cardillac who was murdering Parisians for their jewels. Cardillac knew that Olivier knew about his murderous propensities and so rehired him. Cardillac smugly tells Olivier that no one will believe him if he informs on Cardillac, and Olivier wants to be with Madelon, so he returns to Cardillac’s service. They work will together, if coldly, but one day Cardillac decides that it is safe to tell Olivier about the cause of the robberies. Cardillac relates the story of his life, about how his mother, while pregnant with him, became fixated on the jeweled chain of a cavalier and how “he clasped her passionately in his arms, whilst she laid hold of the handsome chain.” Their struggles resulted in the cavalier’s death, and “the terror of that fearful moment had left its stamp upon me. The evil star of my destiny had got in the ascendant and shot down its sparks upon me, enkindling in me a most singular but at the same time a most pernicious passion.” Since that time Cardillac has been stealing jewels, and when he became a goldsmith an evil voice began whispering in his ears to take the gems: “what does a dead man want diamonds for?” He began with breaking and entering and moved up to murder, the latter being the only act which silences the voice and produces “a calmness, a satisfaction in my soul, which I had never yet experienced.” It was Cardillac’s destiny to kill, and “I had either to yield to it or to perish.”
The bracelets and necklace which began “Mademoiselle de Scudéry” came to Scudéry because of Cardillac’s admiration of her goodness–but once the jewels are out of Cardillac’s possession he begins to lust after them, until Olivier is finally afraid for her life, which is why he ran to her carriage and gave her the seemingly threatening note. The day that Cardillac was planning to attack Scudéry he attacked another man first, except this man was a police officer, and it was Cardillac who was mortally stabbed. The officer fled, and Olivier took the dying Cardillac back to his house, and was then arrested. This story convinces Scudéry, and she sets off to help him. She writes a letter to La Regnie explaining that Olivier is covering a secret “which would entail disaster upon virtue and innocence,” but La Regnie does not believe her and tells her that the rack lies in Olivier’s immediate future. Scudéry writes to the best advocate in Paris, but he responds that there is no way to save Olivier. Finally, the officer who killed Cardillac approaches Scudéry and tells all. The officer, Count de Miossens, kept quiet because La Regnie would not have believed him. So Scudéry decides that the only thing to do is get the King, Louis XIV, to take action. She approaches him, and such is the respect with which she is held that he listens to her. She tells the entire story from beginning to end, and he believes her, and has Madelon brought to him, and believes the petition she gives him (that she looks like a former mistress of his does not hurt) and has the Chambre Ardente look at the case. The Count de Miossens testifies for Olivier, the people of Paris begin rooting for Olivier, and finally the King decrees that Olivier go free and gives he and Madelon a handsome wedding present, but also orders that Olivier and Madelon leave Paris. Happy ending for everyone!
“Mademoiselle de Scudéry” is entertaining, to a limited degree. Hoffmann was a skilled writer and could make use of many different methods to tell a story, so “The Sand-man” is almost hallucinogenic and “The Entail” is told in a more straightforward fashion. in “Mademoiselle de Scudéry” is told in the Gothic mode. Hoffmann wrote it relatively late in the life of the genre, after all the landmark works in the genre (with the exception of Melmoth the Wanderer, for more on which see the John Melmoth entry) were written. Hoffmann does not make in “Mademoiselle de Scudéry” a full-blown Gothic, but instead uses many of its tropes in the telling of the story. So there’s no crumbling castle or pursuit of a threatened maiden through an underground passage, but there is a Hero-Villain (see the John Melmoth and Arbaces entries for more on that) of sorts in the figure of Cardillac. There is also the story-within-a-story structure and the persecuted victim figure in Olivier.
But “Mademoiselle de Scudéry” also has some of the drawbacks of the Gothic and so is only somewhat entertaining. The characters are stereotypical, from Mademoiselle de Scudéry’s superhuman virtue and grace to Madelon’s innocence to the tortured evil of Cardillac. The dialogue is monologic, long-winded, and melodramatic. The narrative style is old-fashioned and occasionally slow going. There is a great deal of nice historical detail, and much of the story is not boring, but it cannot be said to be a page-turner.
Most interesting to me, however, is the story’s role as a proto-detective story. Now, the early history of the detective story is by no means a settled, dead issue. Although the conventional retelling of the history of the detective genre names Edgar Allan Poe as “the father of the modern detective story,” the truth isn’t that simple or neat. As scholars like Lucy Sussex and Chris Willis have shown, and as I’ve tried to show on this site, there was a great deal of mystery fiction written before and contemporaneously with Poe, and the conventional histories of the genre leave out far more than they include in their accounts of the genre’s development. The final history of the detective genre in the 19th century has yet to be written; when it is, it will include not just authors like Dickens (for Inspector Bucket) and Wilkie Collins (for Sergeant Cuff) and Poe (for C. Auguste Dupin), but also J.E.P. Muddock (for Dick Donovan), Mary Fortune (for Mark Sinclair, see below), and the author of “G.” The issue of firsts–first “important” detective, first professional female detective, first amateur detective–is one that will never be satisfactorily settled. But I can say that Mademoiselle de Scudéry is a worthy addition to the ranks of 19th century female detectives and counts as one of the earliest amateur detectives, male or female.
Now, the idea of a woman being involved in a mystery and helping to solve that mystery was a staple trope of the Gothics, so it can’t be said that Hoffmann exactly broke new ground. Nor, to be honest, can Mademoiselle de Scudéry be described as a great crime-solver. She does no legwork, makes no brilliant deductions, and the solution to the mystery is given to her rather than discovered by her. By today’s standards she’s not much of a detective. But it must be remembered that the detective genre hadn’t been invented, much less codified, yet, and so the tropes and motifs of the genre weren’t established and standardized. Hoffmann was not consciously writing a detective story, as there was no such thing. He was writing a Gothic-influenced story, using Gothic tropes. But Hoffmann, in “Mademoiselle de Scudéry,” has stripped away the Gothic architecture (literal and figurative) and placed the story in the Paris of salons and Charles XIV, not the decaying, corrupt city of some Gothics (for example the Philadelphia of George Lippard’s Quaker City; see the Devil-Bug entry for more on that choice morsel). The dynamic of the story is not of a woman pursued, as in so many Gothics, but of a woman to whom people and a mystery come. The heroine is not threatened sexually, emotionally, or physically. The heroine’s affliction is not supernatural, but spiritual, in her temporary loss of faith in humanity’s goodness. And while there is a ghastly family secret uncovered, the heroine, Mademoiselle de Scudéry, is not a part of it. “Mademoiselle de Scudéry” is in effect a transitional story, carrying Gothicisms with it but moving from the Gothic to the as yet unformed detective genre.
Mademoiselle de Scudéry is not a great detective, no. But she is, in her way, as much of a detective as something out of the Mary Roberts Rinehart “Had I But Known” school. To put it in the simplest terms: in “Mademoiselle de Scudéry” there is a series of crimes for which a (mostly) innocent man is imprisoned. Scudéry becomes an advocate for the innocent man, convinces the Powers That Be to reconsider the case, and thanks largely to her efforts the innocent man is freed. Again, she does not actual detecting, but she is primarily responsible for the solving the case. So just as “Mademoiselle de Scudéry” is a transitional story from the Gothic to the detective story, Mademoiselle de Scudéry is a transitional figure from the Gothic heroine to the female detective.
There has always been some debate about Hoffmann’s influence on Poe. Partisans for both sides have argued their cases rather vehemently. As far as I’m concerned, it’s clear that Poe had read Hoffmann–of that there should be little doubt–and had him in mind while writing his early stories. Indeed, given Poe’s tastes in reading and the esteem in which the French (who Poe himself esteemed) held Hoffmann in the late 1820s, it is quite unlikely that Poe did not read Hoffmann, and even an attempt to write in a manner unlike Hoffmann would still show Hoffmann’s influence. But it’s one thing to say that Hoffmann influenced Poe’s horror stories and another to claim that Hoffmann influenced Poe’s story about C. Auguste Dupin. I don’t see much of Hoffmann in the Dupin stories, and I especially don’t see much of “Mademoiselle de Scudéry” in any of the Dupin stories. That Hoffmann influenced Poe at the beginning of the latter’s career, I have no doubt about; that Poe was brilliant enough to make Dupin out of numerous elements, none of which were Mademoiselle de Scudéry, I also have no doubt about.
Mademoiselle de Scudéry is a good soul. She is kind, virtuous, and esteemed by all, including the King. She takes in distraught women whose lovers have been unjustly imprisoned, and then she takes up the cudgels for those men, going to great lengths to help the innocent. She is deeply religious, and when she thinks she has been lied to by one she trusts, her faith is shaken. But events restore her faith, and she sees events through to their proper end. She is intelligent, well read, and kind enough to be genuinely happy for others when events conspire to help them.
eeds. Seeds were created by Louisa May Alcott and appeared in "Lost in a Pyramid, or the Mummy's Curse." The story was written in 1869 but was not published until 1998, when it appeared in the pages of KMT: A Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt. In case you're wondering, yes, the author of this story (1832-1888) is the very same Louisa May Alcott who wrote Little Women, Little Men, and various other works fondly remembered from childhood. (Well, not my childhood. I was reading The Naked Lunch and Delta of Venus and Pimp: The Story of My Life when I was a kid. But my sister loved Little Women). What isn't as widely known to the general public is that Alcott, whose family depended upon her for income, was a working writer and sold several thrillers to Frank Leslie's publications (see the Felix Stähl entry for more on this) for quick cash. "Lost in a Pyramid" is one of those, although as mentioned Alcott never sold it.
"Lost in a Pyramid" may well be the first "curse of the Mummy" story. A few novels and stories about mummies preceded Alcott's story, but those were quite different from the revenant stories which were to be so common in the late 19th and early 20th century. "Lost in a Pyramid" is about Paul Forsyth and his fiance Evelyn. Some years before Paul and his mentor Professor Niles had explored one of the pyramids at Cheops. They had gotten lost, and Professor Niles had fallen and broken his leg, so that in extremis they build a fire so that the smoke can lead their guide to them. Unwisely, they use one of the mummies as kindling. The mummy is holding a gold box. After they are rescued they open the box and find a parchment inside; its inscription "said that the mummy we had so ungallantly burned was that of a famous sorceress who bequeathed her curse to whoever should disturb her rest." Inside the box are also some scarlet seeds. Forsyth and Niles, naturally, bring the seeds home with them. When Forsyth tells Evelyn about them, she urges him to plant them, but he is reluctant ("I have a queer feeling about the matter") and throws the seeds into the fire. He doesn't get all of them, however, and he retrieves one and sends it to Niles, who plants it. On his wedding night Forsyth receives news that Niles brought the seed to flower and wore it, but that it absorbed his vitality and bloomed as he died, scant hours after placing it in his buttonhole. Unfortunately, Evelyn had also retrieved one of the seeds, planted it, nursed it, and then wore it as a surprise for Forsyth. Forsyth is too late to stop the flower, which drains Evelyn's vitality and mind and leaves her a "pale ghost." For the rest of his days Forsyth tends to her in seclusion.
"Lost in a Pyramid" is an average, entertaining curse-of-the-mummy story, but nothing extraordinary.
elene. Selene was created by Paul Féval and appeared in La Ville-Vampire (Vampire City, probably 1867 in feuilleton form, definitely 1875 as a novel). Paul-Henri-Corentin Féval (1816-1875), a major French writer of pulp and adventure novels in the 19th century, is on this site for a number of entries; the one I’ve done most recently is The White Wolf. Vampire City is actually a parody of the Gothic genre (a rather curious decision on Féval’s part, as the Gothic essentially died decades before Féval wrote Vampire City). The novel is horror mixed with light comedy and a send up of the Gothics and the English; Féval has fun with any number of Gothic cliches as well as tweaking the British and Irish. (Féval’s work, like many other author’s, was being widely plagiarized by British publishers when he wrote Vampire City, and so he had a bit of a grudge against Britain to begin with. And he felt that George W. M. Reynods’ The Mysteries of London (1845-1855) was a lift of Féval’s own The Mysteries of London, for more on which see the Les Habits Noirs entry. So there’s a bit of an edge to Féval’s mockery of the English).
Vampire City is about Anne Ward, “the woman was to become famous as Anne (sic) Radcliffe.” (Ann Radcliffe, of course, is the author of The Italian–see the Father Schedoni entry–and The Mysteries of Udolpho–see the Count Montoni entry. Radcliffe was the most popular British author of the 1790s and is widely seen as the inventor of the Gothic novel). Her friends Ned Barton and Cornelia de Witt make the mistake of travelling to the Continent with Barton’s tutor, Otto Goetzi. It turns out that Goetzi is a vampire, and through his schemes Barton is badly wounded and and Cornelia abducted. Radcliffe has an ominous dream in which she sees their tombs and then gets a troubling series of letters from the pair. She concludes that the pair are in great danger and takes off for the Continent, accompanied by the Radcliffe’s family servant, Grey Jack. She frees Barton and the pair pursue Goetzi to the city of Selene, which is a literal vampire city. They kill Goetzi and leave, but while finding Cornelia they encounter further vampires, including one of Goetzi’s duplicates. Radcliffe et al are trapped by the vampires and are about to be killed when...well, when Radcliffe wakes up. She hasn’t been dreaming, exactly, but she has been having a dream vision of the peril facing Ned and Cornelia. She then goes in search of them and finds them near Belgrade, but she is unable to locate Selene itself.
Vampire City is an entertaining trifle. Féval’s parody is spot-on, and he doesn’t lapse into exaggeration, rather going for an accurate imitation of the Gothic style and plot cliches. Féval gets off some good lines at the expense of the English, and Vampire City generally gives off the air of having been fun to write. But Vampire City doesn’t exceed the limits of parody and become a satire or anything more remarkable. It is interesting to note, however, how much the modern conception of the vampire has been shaped by Dracula, since Féval, in Vampire City, presents vampires as being quite dissimilar to Stoker’s vampires, in abilities and personalities. Féval was drawing on Dom Augustine Calmet’s Dissertations sur les Apparitions des Esprits, et sur les Vampires (1746), just as Stoker did, but Féval took different things from Calmet than Stoker did and added his own elements, just as Stoker did. Féval’s vampires absorb their victims and can duplicate themselves and change shape, so that an entire family or even village can be one collective vampire. And the deadliest weapon to use against vampires, in Vampire City, is not holy water but the ashes of another vampire, which explodes those undead it touches.
Another interesting note–and this is Brian Stableford’s, not mine–is how much of a precursor Féval’s Anne Radcliffe is to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and all the other female vampire slayers, like Anita Blake, of the modern era. Although Féval’s Anne Radcliffe does not get her own hands dirty, she is in nearly all other respects a take-charge heroine quite undaunted by vampires or any other obstacles, quite unlike the typical Gothic heroine.
Finally, it should be noted that much of the real Ann Radcliffe’s life is unknown. Little was written about her during her lifetime. Féval was having fun, but he knew exactly as much as anyone else did about what Radcliffe’s life was really like.
Selene itself is a city north-northwest of Belgrade; the closest village to it is Semlin/Zemun. Outsiders sometimes call it Selene, sometimes “Vampire City,” but the vampires themselves call it either “Sepulchre” or “the College.” It is normally invisible to mortals, and those humans who do see it all see it differently
Some tell of a great city of black jasper which has streets and buildings like any other city but is eternally in mourning, enveloped by perpetual gloom. Others have caught site of immense amphitheatres capped with domes like mosques, and minarets reaching for the sky more numerous than the pines in the forest of Dinawar. Yet others have found a single circus of colossal proportions, surrounded by a triple rank of white marble cloisters lit by a lunar twilight that never gives way to day or night.The city is inhabited by vampires, who are “half demon and half phantom...incapable of reproducing themsleves but also deprived of the blessing of death.” The women are “ghouls, also known as oupires. Some, it is said, have sat on thrones and terrified history.”
No mortal can enter Selene without the blessing of a vampire. When vampires go to Selene, it is often to heal themselves. When they are wounded, they require “rewinding.” An evil priest puts a certain key “into the hole which every vampire has in the left side of his breast, and turns.”
On drawing close to Selene the terrain changes, becoming lifeless and dull; the blue of the sky veils over with grey, and “a melancholy screen” draws across the face of the sun. The traveler is weakened, “their heads unquiet and their bosoms oppressed by an uncanny weight.” They also must push through a cold, dead blackness before arriving in Selene. When they do, they are in the middle of the city. Radcliffe and her group see a city incorporating a wide variety of architectural styles, from Assyrian to Chinese to Indian, and full of dazzling buildings. The city itself is vast and sprawling, and many of the mausoleums of the vampires bear the names of the famous and infamous. Every day at noon a rumble fills the air and a crystal bell chimes, and all the inhabitants of the city come to life.
eligman. Seligman was created by W.I. James, a writer of numerous dime novel stories about whom nothing is known. Seligman appeared in "Heller's Pupil; or, The Second-Sight Detective," in Old Cap Collier Library #4. I haven't actually found this story (yet) to read it, so all I have to go on is one writer's summary of Seligman and the story. Seligman is the pupil of Robert Heller, a noted stage magician with the ability to read minds. Heller passed on something of this ability to Seligman: "He taught how to discover what no mortal eyes except his and mine can see." Seligman has the ability of "second-sight," that is, he can clairvoyantly summon up an image of a crime being committed. He uses his second-sight to find out who committed a crime, and then he uses his skills as a detective to gather the evidence to convict the criminal.
eptima. Septima was created by Marcel Schwob and appeared in “Septima, Enchantress” (Imaginary Lives, 1896). Schwob (1867-1905) was a minor French writer associated with the Decadent and Symbolist movements. He’s best known for his Le Roi au Masque d’Or (The King in the Golden Mask, 1892) and Vies Imaginaires (Imaginary Lives, 1896).
“Septima, Enchantress” is about Septima, an African slave in the Phoenician city of Hadrumetum. Her mother had been a slave, as her mother before her had been, and all had been “beautiful and unknown, to whom the dark gods had revealed the spells of love and of death.” Septima falls in love with Sextilius, a young freeman, but their love cannot be, “for she belonged to those who knew the mysteries of the lower world and served love’s adversary whose name is Anteros...when Eros touched her with his flame, Anteros took the man she loved.” Septima yearns for Sextilius, and so she goes to the Necropolis outside of Hadrumetum and speaks to her dead sister, Phoinissa, who died a virgin at sixteen. Septima pleads with Phoinissa to speak to Anteros and Hathor on Septima’s behalf, and to make Sextilius burn with love of Septima. Phoinissa descends into the underworld, but Anubis and Hathor ignore her pleas, and she is unable to find Anteros. But Phoinissa feels pity for her sister and goes to Sextilius to do as her sister asked. As she sits down next on the bed next to the sleeping Sextilius, “Eros struck against Anteros, seizing the dead heart of Phoinissa, making her desire the body of Sextilius to sleep between her sister and herself in the house of death.” Phoinissa kisses Sextilius, killing him, and then returns to Septima and takes her hand, killing her. And the trio rest together in the Necropolis, Sextilius lying between Septima and Phoinissa.
“Septima, Enchantress” is a short, strong piece of dark fantasy. Although the French Academie has only recently deemed Schwob worthy of study, he and Imaginary Lives were influential. As well-written examples of fictionalized biographies–many of the stories in Imaginary Lives are short biographies of real people–Imaginary Lives was devoured by and influential on Jorge Luis Borges, particularly in his A Universal History of Infamy and in some of the stories in Labyrinths. It is not known whether Schwob was read by the outstanding American fantasist Clark Ashton Smith, but there are marked similarities in style between Schwob, especially in Imaginary Lives, and Smith’s “Zothique” stories. The formal tone, emotional detachment, and irony in Imaginary Lives and “Septima, Enchantress” appear in many of Smith’s stories. Schwob writes in vivid images, similar to the Decadents, and the association between love and death, so strong in “Septima, Enchantress,” appears in the Decadents as well as Smith.
Septima is passionate, and it’s quite understandable that she’d ask her sister for help in gaining the love of a man forbidden to her. And, really, it’s not too much to ask, I think, since if not for Anteros’ interference, Sextilius might have loved Septima back. But you never want to get another woman involved in gaining a man’s love, because, as “Septima, Enchantress” showed, the other woman might steal your man away.
herman, Dick. Dick Sherman appeared in Allan Arnold's The Black Diver; or, Dick Sherman in the Gulf, which was published in The Boys of New York from September 10 to November 12 1887. Allan Arnold was a house name for Tousey publishing; nothing is known about the true author of The Black Diver. Dick Sherman and his elderly blind father Angus invent the Black Diver, a supersubmarine so advanced that with it they can defy the navies of the world. (They would never do that, of course) It is well-armored, powered by electricity, can travel at high speeds both underneath and above the waves, has torpedoes, electrically-powered mines attracted to movement, mounted machine guns and flying harpoons. The Shermans have also invented new versions of petards. With the Black Diver the pair go to the Gulf of Mexico in search of the El Dorado, a Spanish galleon full of treasure which was sunk in the 16th century. The Shermans are accompanied by Dick's friend Harry, a college chum, and Scipio, the black servant portrayed (predictably) as a comic figure. They go to the Caribbean and defy sharks and hijacking attempts and eventually succeed in recovering the treasure of the El Dorado. The Black Diver is a fairly standard boy inventor story with nothing to distinguish it.
ignal-Man. The Signal-Man was created by Charles Dickens and appeared in “No. 1 Branch Line: The Signal-Man” (All The Year Round, Christmas Number 1866). Dickens...I don’t really need to tell you about him, do I? “The Signal-Man” is considered one of the better 19th century ghost stories. It’s about a signal-man on a British railway who is questioned by an agent for the railway company. The agent is investigating the man’s fitness, and so quizzes him about his job. The signal-man, who is never named, shows himself to be diligent and conscientious at his work, but he is troubled by something, and after some questioning reveals that he’s recently seen a ghost. The agent is dubious, but the signal-man explains that he’s seen the ghost twice before: once six hours before a train collision along his line, and once the day before a woman died on a train on his line. The agent is chilled by this story, but still wonders if the signal-man might not be hallucinating, or cracking under stress–for the signal-man is clearly distraught, worrying about what the ghost’s third appearance might mean. The signal-man knows that if he had only figured out the ghost’s message twice before, lives might have been saved, and the signal-man wants to save those lives this time. The agent leaves, determined to let the man get some medical help before the railway company is informed of his condition. When the agent returns the signal-man is dead, cut down by an oncoming train.
“The Signal-Man” is a good, above-average ghost story. I wouldn’t rank it with the best of the century, but it’s certainly a more than respectable work. It as the Dickensian touch of dialogue and characterization, and what the ghost wants is not immediately apparent, so that the ending wasn’t predictable–always a bonus. And there’s a general lack of malevolence to the story; in a Rosa Mulholland or Amelia Edwards story, the ghost (or the story’s end) would be considerably nastier, but here the ghost is only a warning, and the ending comes almost as a relief. Dickens does a very good job of conveying the signal-man’s worry and stress about the ghost, so that his death is an end to that.
ilver Man. The Silver Man was created by Rudyard Kipling and appeared in “The Mark of the Beast” (The Pioneer, 12-14 July, 1890). Kipling (1865-1936) is the author of Kim, and I have some information on him there. “The Mark of the Beast” is one of Kipling’s finest works, and perhaps his best horror story.
It’s New Year’s Eve at the station near Dharmsala in India, and British soldiers and agents have gathered “from the uttermost ends of the Empire...to be riotous....half a dozen planters had come in from the south and were talking ‘horse’ to the Biggest Liar in Asia, who was trying to cap all their stories at once.” The nameless narrator and his friend Strickland accompany their friend Fleete home; Fleete is very drunk, and it’s half-past three in the morning, and quite cold. Unfortunately, as the trio are passing a little temple of Hanuman, the monkey-god, Fleete breaks away from the narrator and Strickland, runs into the temple, and grinds the ashes of his cigar into the forehead of the statue of Hanuman. Strickland and the narrator are horrified, more out of fear of what will happen than from the offensiveness of Fleete’s act; the temple priests and the natives are more than just horrified. Fleete is oblivious, for he instantly goes to sleep. Before anyone can do anything, however, a leper emerges from behind the statue. He is naked, and the narrator calls him “a Silver Man” because “his body shone like frosted silver, for he was what the Bible calls ‘a leper as white as snow.’ Also he had no face, because he was a leper of some years’ standing, and his disease was heavy upon him.” As the narrator and Strickland are lifting Fleete up and trying to carry him out of the temple the Silver Man grabs Fleete and presses his head against Fleete’s chest.
The priests were very angry until the Silver Man touched Fleete. That nuzzling seemed to sober them.Before Fleete goes to bed he complains about slaughterhouses being allowed so close to English residences: “Can’t you smell the blood?” He continues to be oblivious to what he’s done, but Strickland is not so sanguine; he’s mystified about the behavior of the Indians. The next afternoon Fleete is in a foul temper and is demanding a raw pork chop from his cook. On his chest are a circle of “black rosettes.” When the trio go out to ride the horses go mad in Fleete’s presence, refusing to let him come near them and even trying to attack him. Fleete is tired and goes to lie down. Strickland, cryptically, asks the narrator to stay for a few days, to watch Fleete, “but don’t tell me what you think till I have made up my mind.” That night, when Strickland and the narrator drop by the bungalow to pick up Fleete for dinner, they find that he’s been rolling in the garden, and “his eyes were horrible to look at. There was a green light behind them, not in them....” Fleete excuses himself to go change. Then, from his room, comes a wolf’s howl. When Strickland and the narrator run in to his room, they find Fleete trying to escape through the window. “He made beast-noises in the back of his throat. He could not answer us when we shouted at him. He spat...Fleete could not speak, he could only snarl, and his snarls were those of a wolf, not of a man. The human spirit must have been giving way all day and have died out with the twilight. We were dealing with a beast that had once been Fleete.”
At the end of a few minutes’ silence one of the priests came to Strickland and said, in perfect English, “Take your friend away. He has done with Hanuman, but Hanuman has not done with him.”
The pair hear mewing from outside the house and know that it is the Silver Man making that noise. They tie up the beast and call for a doctor; he says that it is a very bad case of hydrophobia, and that nothing can be done. Strickland gathers some equipment and vows to take the law into his own hands. They go and after a fierce struggle capture the leper. Strickland and the narrator torture him until he agrees to “take away the evil spirit,” which he does, and only a few hours later Fleete is as good as new, with no memory of what happened. Strickland goes to the temple of Hanuman “to offer redress for the pollution of the god, and had been solemnly assured that no white man had ever touched the idol, and that he was an incarnation of all the virtues laboring under a delusion.” When Fleete comments on the “horrid doggy smell” in the room Strickland begins laughing hysterically. “Then it struck me that we had fought for Fleete’s soul with the Silver Man in that room, and had disgraced ourselves as Englishmen forever....”
“‘Your Gods and my Gods–do you or I know which are the stronger?’ Native Proverb.I’ve become a big fan of Kipling over the course of this project, and discovering stories like “The Mark of the Beast” makes this book a pure joy to write. Like many of the best horror stories, it works on two levels, the literal and the metaphoric. On the literal level, it is a deadpan, chilling story; as in Kim, the story has the assured tone of an old India hand and adventurer. Kipling is in complete control of this story, from the pacing to the small and authentic-feeling moments of Indian culture to the horrific implications of the story. There are some lines with real horror behind them, including “he has done with Hanuman, but Hanuman has not done with him” and the way in which the narrator continually refers to the possessed Fleete as “the beast.” There is some quite frightening brutality, as in the way that Kipling prepares us for the torture scene, showing us how willing the narrator and Strickland are to torture the Silver Man, but then skips over it (“...and we got to work. This part is not to be printed”), leaving us to frightful imaginings about what was done to the Silver Man. As a horror story on the basic, literal level, “The Mark of the Beast” is superb.
“East of Suez, some hold, the direct control of Providence ceases; Man being there handed over to the power of the Gods and Devils of Asia, and the Church of England Providence only exercising occasional and modified supervision in the case of Englishmen.”
But then there is the metaphoric level. It would be quite easy to accuse the story of being racist: the use of the term “Fuzzies,” the seemingly contemptuous treatment of the Silver Man and the natives, the way in which Kipling seems to overlook Fleete’s monstrously insulting act. But a little consideration of the story shows that Kipling is, if anything, working against the assumptions and biases of his contemporary audience. Strickland, one of Kipling’s recurring characters (he appears in Kim and “The Recrudescence of Imray,” among others), is generally seen as Kipling’s version of the omniscient Sherlock Holmes-type character. But Strickland does not hew to a strictly rationalist line in dealing with Fleete’s punishment; he accepts the supernatural as the cause of Fleete’s affliction, something Holmes would not do. (And quote me no “It is an old maxim of mine that when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth,” since Holmes would not have accepted the supernatural as a cause of Fleete’s case–Holmes would have considered every other possible alternative first). The message of the entire story, in fact, is anti-rationalist/materialist and pro-supernatural, from the quotes (given above) which begin the story to the premise of the story to Strickland’s unquestioning acceptance of the existence of Hanuman.
Too, Kipling does not argue that Fleete’s punishment was wrong, simply excessive. Strickland’s comment is, “But he can’t take away the life! He can’t take away the life!” Strickland’s objection, and the preferred inscribed narrative–that is, Kipling’s intent in writing the story–is that Fleete, for “polluting the image of Hanuman,” deserved punishment, just not the one he received.
Finally, there’s the line, near the end of the story, where Strickland and the narrator, having tortured the Silver Man, begin laughing in a brittle and hysterical fashion, because they had “disgraced ourselves as Englishmen forever.” Strickland and the narrator, unable to counter what is being done to Fleete with Victorian values or tactics, or indeed the values or tactics of the “enlightened” West–the doctor is notably helpless to cure Fleete, finally bringing in a nurse to euthanise him–assume more primitive (i.e., Indian) tactics and values as the only way to save Fleete. Kipling essentially says, in the story, that Indian tactics and values are the only ones which can be used in India, and that if the English want to remain English and not go native, they should not be in India. “The Mark of the Beast” is a rebuke to the notion of enlightened colonization and imperialism, that Britain could civilize and uplift heathen India, and while there’s a racist element to that idea–India as irredeemably primitive–it’s clear from the story that Kipling, like Strickland, does not disapprove of Fleete’s punishment, only its severity. (Also, consider the story’s title. On the obvious level “the mark of the beast” refers to the mark Fleete leaves on Hanuman’s forehead. But it can just as easily refer to the mark left by the beast, i.e., Fleete).
The Silver Man is a leper, so taken by the disease that his face is gone, his skin frosted silver, and his feet worn away. He is, obviously, a devotee of Hanuman, and perhaps more–did Hanuman do more than just inspire the Silver Man? The Silver Man is also vengeful, not just in punishing Fleete but also going to the house in which Fleete is suffering and gloating by mewing at him.
ilver Star. Silver
Star is not actually the hero of Oll Coomes' "Silver Star, the Boy Knight.
Or, Kit Bandy, Detective," which appeared in Beadle's Half-Dime Library,
#1061 (1897). (Oll Coomes, by the way, wrote almost 40 dime novels, but
was a pseudonym, for who I don't know) Kit Bandy (see his entry under in
Heroes section) And, I confess it, I have not been able to read
all of "Silver Star." But I do know this: "Silver Star" is the heroic boy
adventurer, inventor, and detective who takes his steam-driven hot air
balloon to the prairie and has various adventures there against the "Injuns."
He also makes use of his wondrous invention, the tent-umbrella-canoe-rifle
(I kid you not).
inclair, Mark. Mark Sinclair was created by Mary Fortune and appeared in...oh, gracious, any number of short stories—Fortune published hundreds of them, and I haven’t been able to find out just how many Sinclair appeared in—some of which were collected in The Detective’s Album: Tales of the Detective Police (1871). Fortune (1833?-1910) was the first woman to write crime stories in Australia, and her work predates that of such luminaries as A.C. Doyle and Wilkie Collins. A somewhat peculiar and secretive sort (see the link below for a good, long essay on Fortune), she wrote over 500 detective stories from 1865-1908, all appearing in the Australian Journal. It is a shame she’s so little known, since she deserves to be considered an early giant in the field of detective fiction; she was a pioneer in the police procedural genre and is one of the first authors—never mind female authors, authors period—to produce a serial detective.
Sinclair is a police detective, described by Lucy Sussex as “a likable character, not over-scrupulous in his pursuit of criminals...Sinclair's voice...is remarkably similar to that of Fortune in her journalism, being lively and colloquial.” Many of his stories are set in the outback and involve Sinclair tracking criminals through the bush. Michael Grost, discussing Sinclair and James Borlase’s James Brooke, describes them this way:
The Australian detectives are largely lacking the tremendous emphasis put on the lower class status of the British detectives. English writers are forever emphasizing that Sgt. Cuff or Bucket are not quite gentlemen, and are more typical of the working classes. These detectives always seem to be seen from the outside, somehow. The Australian detectives seem to be social equals, at least on the job, of everyone they meet. They concentrate instead on doing their work, which they pursue with zest. They have the confidence of middle class professionals, knowing they are good at their work, and understand it well. They intervene in the actions of the other characters' lives, just like Sherlock Holmes does. They have a "take charge" personality. By contrast, English Victorian detectives always seem to be standing off on the sidelines, deferentially asking questions, and trying not to get in the way of the other characters, who are clearly their betters. "Making inquiries" seems to be their paradigmatic mode of operation.What do I have to offer in addition to that? (You’ve no idea, most of you, how intimidating it is to have to follow people like Sussex and Grost). Not much, really, except the following information.
Not surprisingly, Fortune’s work varies in quality and tone depending on when she wrote it. This is to be expected, given how long she wrote–43 years, many of which were Mark Sinclair stories–and how young she was when she began writing and how old she was when she stopped writing. In many respects her style reflects the times she lived in as well as, undoubtedly, the mystery writers who she read. Like her one-time collaborator, James Skipp Borlase, Fortune, early in her career, plagiarized (or, to be more generous, “borrowed heavily from”) the work of the William Burrows author. A few years later she published The Detective’s Album. But that was 1871, and she kept writing until 1908. To put this into perspective, when The Detective’s Album was published her most famous contemporary, as a writer of mysteries, was Wilkie Collins, whose The Moonstone (see the Sergeant Cuff entry) had only come out three years earlier. When Fortune stopped writing Sherlock Holmes had been around for over 20 years, mysteries were thought of as belonging to their own separate genre, and dozens of very different writers were producing mysteries. Writing styles had changed, and it is only normal that Fortune’s style changed with the times.
All of which is to say that the work in The Detective’s Album is of its time, and Fortune’s work later in her life is of its time as well. Her earlier work is dated and less enjoyable, to modern eyes. The vocabulary and prose style and thicker and slower, with the sort of stiff ponderousness which can make Bulwer-Lytton such a chore to read. Fortune’s earlier work is not unenjoyable, but the Burrows influence is marked, and Sinclair shows only slight variations from the Australian detective character type of Burrows and James Brooke. Even in these early stories, however, there’s a touch of subtlety to the writing, a hint of the excellence which she would later achieve. In one story in The Detective’s Album, “A Woman’s Revenge,” there’s a passage in which Sinclair is drugged and has horrible dreams; Fortune makes the passage, which lasts for almost a page, a hallucinatory and frightening thing, in which Sinclair’s fear of being killed leads him to smell death all around him and even coming from him. The passage would not be out of place in the better horror stories of the century.
Fortune’s style changed as she grew older, so that her later work is, as Lucy Sussex says, “lively and colloquial.” In the 1890s and 1900s she was undoubtedly influenced by prevailing trends in writing and the public’s changing tastes, and so made her style more stripped-down and less over-written, but the brisk tone and the snap to the dialogue and description are similar to writers of the 1930s. One gentleman is described as responding “with a laugh that came from his teeth only.” Fortune had entertaining lines even in the earlier stories; in one he refers to a flattering thought occurring to him as vanity whispering to him, and in another, when foiled, he “expressed myself in the most approved Billingsgate.” But those lines occur much more often in the later work.
Too, the later stories become much closer to the stereotype of “woman’s writing” than to “men’s writing.” There’s a marked element of emotion and a concern for feelings which is not to be found in the Holmes stories or in a number of the other detective/mystery stories of the 19th century written by men–or women.
The changes to Sinclair match the changes to Fortune. He begins as a typical Aussie detective–again, see the James Brooke and William Burrows entries, as well as those of the casebook detectives like James M’Govan. Sinclair works in Melbourne but ventures into the brush on cases; he starts the stories at the station in Country Campwether. His usual method is to check into the station in the morning to see what new rewards have been posted, and then to ride off on his own to begin investigating. He follows his own rules, which earns him the envy of his colleagues. Sinclair works for the reward money, although he’s of course interested in helping people out. He refers several times to his “terrible” career and the awful things he’s seen, and in The Detective’s Album we read several bloody and sensational (in the old sense) stories. Murder is a common crime. Some of criminals include an accidental bigamist and his malicious, gambling addict first wife, who sets the bigamist up through a diamond scam; a female murderer of children (there are many female villains in The Detective’s Album); and a woman who dismembers one woman’s body and keeps it in a box, and burns alive a romantic rival. These are the kinds of crimes Sinclair gets involved with.
As a detective, in these early stories, Sinclair is, again, typical of the breed. He is crafty, but is quite capable of being gulled by his suspects or even by a practical joke. He can be surprised, and his ego can lead him astray. He is determined, though, and usually runs down his man or woman. He has a certain esprit de corps and takes aspersions on the police force badly. He has great respect for women, because they, especially “the silly ones of the sex,” have always been of great use to him. (So, too, is coincidence, which helps him catch criminals nearly as often as his own wits). He is under no illusions about his own nature, acknowledging his temper to the reader as well as his own “inherent wickedness.” But he’s also kind; when a dog shows great faithfulness to his mistress, helps solve her murder, and visibly mourns when her body is found, going so far as to lick her cold, white hands and face–and, yeah, Fortune went right for the heartstrings in that story, and succeeded–Sinclair adopts the dog.
In the later stories this changes. Sinclair, like Fortune’s style, seems more of a figure from the 1930s than the 1890s. He acts like a private eye, and thinks often about resigning from the police force and opening a private practice. He describes himself as “hard-working and cynical;” his faith in society as a whole, which was present in The Detective’s Album, is gone. He becomes more human and recognizable to modern readers, becoming a warmer character and more likable person. And he is an intervener rather than a reactor; when appropriate, he inserts himself into cases rather than waiting for them to come to him.
In the later stories Sinclair’s assistant is a young man named Archie Hopeton. Sinclair and Archie are as much friends as co-workers, and when Archie’s love affair goes wrong, as it does in “Hereditary,” Sinclair is disturbed at the prospect of interfering in Archie’s private life, an emotional response that Holmes, for example, would not have been troubled by.
The Detective’s Album is an obscurity; only two copies are known to exist. It’s readable but isn’t much more. Fortune’s later work, however, is excellent, and would do quite well if reprinted today.
A Woman of Mystery
An excellent essay on Fortune and Sinclair.
ister Maddelena. Sister Maddelena was created by Ralph Adams Cram and appeared in “Sister Maddelena” (Black Spirits & White, 1895). Cram (1863-1942), one of America’s foremost architects, was the creator of the Dead Valley, and I have more information on him there.
“Sister Maddelena” is about a pair of men, the nameless narrator and his friend Tom Rendel, who visit Sicily to do some sketching and painting. While near Palermo they meet the Cavaliere Valguanera, an amateur archaeologist and patriot of the island, who knows some of Rendel’s acquaintances, and so they become fast friends. The Cavaliere begins telling the two Americans about the history of Palermo and invites the pair back to his home. One of the stories the Cavaliere tells the pair is about his home, which was formerly the convent of Santa Catarina. It’s haunted, which delights the narrator and his friend. The Cavaliere tells the story: over a century ago a young woman, Rosalia, was betrothed by her father to a Spanish nobleman. But Rosalia loved a young military officer, Michele Biscari, and planned to elope with him rather than marry. A servant informed Rosalia’s father, the Duca di Castiglione, of Rosalia’s plans, and he, furious beyond measure, attempted both emotionally and physically to break her will. She refused, and so the Duke had the lover sent to the mainland and had Rosalia held captive in his castle. But she would not yield to him, and so he finally had her sent to a Carmelite convent, where she would be forced to take the name Maddelena and be held as a prisoner in the convent.
Rosalia thought her lover was dead–her father had persuaded her of this–but refused to marry another, and so took to convent life as a relief from her father. But a change in political fortunes brought Michele back to Sicily, and he eventually discovered that Rosalia, now Maddelena, was still alive. And so he found her and began visiting her at night. But eventually their nocturnal visits were discovered, and Sister Maddelena was imprisoned in one of the cells under the chapel and commanded to confess. She refused, and so was eventually told that matters would be arranged so that either she would confess and Michele would be killed, or she would give up her own life. Sister Maddelena chose suicide, though the method was never known, and Michele spent his life trying to find out what happened to her. Since then, at night, her ghost has been seen by first time visitors to Sta. Catarina. She appears, gentle and harmless, looks at the visitor, and says, “I cannot sleep,” and then vanishes.
That night she appears to the narrator, beautiful and sad. She begins to move to the door, and he follows her. She leads him to a cell and then vanishes. The next day the narrator tells Tom and the Cavaliere about it and asks the Cavaliere’s permission to investigate the cell. Although the cell has been searched many times before, the narrator finds a section in the cell walls that is different from the wall around it, and opens it with the help of Rendel. What they find is a vision of Maddelena in agony, an unchanging vision which does not disappear as they look at it. So they summon a priest, who performs necessary rites and then gently sprinkles holy water on Maddelena’s face. The vision disappears. Later the priest says a midnight mass for Maddelena’s soul, and the cell is bricked up again, and a headstone is ordered for Rosalia.
“Sister Maddelena” is another fine story from Cram. As in “The Dead Valley,” Cram uses an unadorned and efficient style, but when more than that is called for he displays a wonderful talent for description, poetically for the landscape and frighteningly for the vision of Sister Maddelena. The basic story of the ghostly nun is a well-worn chestnut that was familiar in the years of the Gothics, but Cram adds a resolution to the cliched story, and gives Maddelena herself absolution. The story’s ending is predictable, but the story is well-told. Many have found the story moving, but I’m not among them. I was unmoved by “Sister Maddelena,” and I expect others will be as well, because of the story structure, which tells us Maddelena’s story but gives us no chance to get to know her or to become emotionally involved in her story–which is a sad one, to be certain, but she is nearly as much of a stranger to us at the end of the story as she was at the beginning.
Rosalia di Castiglioni, later Sister Maddelena, led a sad life. She was “passionate, beautiful...wilful and headstrong, and careless of her family and the world.” She fell in love and was punished by her heartless father for it. And then she was stuck, haunting the convent of Sta. Catarina. It’s good that her spirit was finally laid to rest, and that, as it reads on her gravestone, “her soul is with him who gave it.”
kshetuski, Yan. Yan Skshetuski was created by Henryk Sienkiewicz and appeared in Ogniem i mieczem (With Fire and Sword, 1884). Henryk Adam Alexander Pius Sienkiewicz (1846-1916), the 1905 Nobel Prize winner, is arguably the most popular writer in the history of Poland. Sienkiewicz’s popularity among Poles is staggering. Over a century after he started writing his work remains well-known and loved among the Polish, and when With Fire And Sword was being filmed in 1998 the debate over who should play the main characters raged across the country and in every class. In life he was a best seller, so popular that in 1900 a national subscription was used to raise funds to allow Sienkiewicz to buy the castle in which his ancestors had lived. In death he was been lifted almost above criticism (at least in the public’s eye–among the intelligentsia is another question) and With Fire And Sword has entered the national mythology. In America With Fire And Sword is not known at all, but Sienkiewicz’s Quo Vadis (which will eventually appear on this site) is still well known, and was in fact the best selling book of the 19th century.
With Fire And Sword is the first of Sienkiewicz’s Trilogy of books on Polish history. With Fire and Sword is about the 1647-1649 rebellion of the Cossacks; Potop (The Deluge, 1886) is about the 1955-1657 Swedish invasion of Poland; and Pan Wolodyjowsky (Sir Michael, 1888) is about the 1668-1672 Polish war with the Ottoman Empire. Yan Skshetuski only appears in With Fire And Sword, but secondary characters appear in the two sequels.
Yan Skshetuski is a noble knight in the service of Prince Yeremi Vishnyevetski of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. He meets and falls in love with Princess Helena Kurtsevich, and she with he, but they cannot marry yet, for Skshetuski has tasks he must first perform for Prince Yeremi. Before they meet again the renegade knight Bogdan Zenovi Hmelnitski leads a revolt of the Zaporojian Cossacks against the Commonwealth. Skshetuski and Helena are swept up in the revolt, and are not reunited until nearly 800 pages of battle, bloodshed, slaughter, deprivation, misery, starvation, swordplay, and kidnaping have passed.
I was sharpening my critical knives in preparation for cutting into the steaming mass of headache that is With Fire And Sword when some research turned up two distressing facts: one, that the translator, Jeremiah Curtin, apparently had a reputation for being not very good at his work, and two, that Curtin reportedly did not translate With Fire And Sword directly from Sienkiewicz’s Polish original, but rather used a Russian language version of the novel which had been “edited” by Russians to fit their sensibilities. I can’t verify the accuracy or lack of same of these two assertions, but the evidence seems to bear them out. This being the case, my comments must be tempered by the acknowledgment that what I read was not Sienkiewicz’s best. There was a new translation of With Fire And Sword in 1991 which gained a great deal of critical acclaim, but I don’t have it at hand and so can’t tell you how much it improves on Curtin’s version. I will, eventually, read the new translation. Not soon though, since I’ve got Quo Vadis up next, and two Sienkiewiczs in two weeks will keep me for about six months. But I should give Sienkiewicz a fair judging, so rereading him in a better translation is only fair.
I will be very interested to see if any of the following changes in the new edition:
Although With Fire And Sword is in many ways the Polish counterpart and response to Taras Bulba, Sienkiewicz is notably kinder in tone than Gogol. Sienkiewicz has a compassion and humanity that Gogol lacks. The self-righteousness of Taras Bulba is absent and has been replaced by a consideration of war's victims. Gogol casts his story and characters in terms of good and evil; Sienkiewicz refrains from doing that.
Finally, With Fire And Sword is an unusual book for its site simply because it is so well known and loved in Poland, as mentioned above. Its role in Polish culture, unique among the other novels I've covered, has led to its worth being overestimated and to a general excess of passions. Norman Davies, in The New York Times Book Review, wrote that "All things being equal -- which they're not -- this tale of romantic derring-do by Polish knights in the wild Ukraine would be every bit as familiar as The Last of the Mohicans, The Three Musketeers, or indeed Taras Bulba." (This bit of hyperbole is utter nonsense--but then, I should have expected no less from Davies, to whom getting the facts right is something that happens to other people and whose opinion on all things Polish is not to be trusted). When the film version of With Fire And Sword debuted in the late 1990s there were riots between Polish and Ukrainian patriots, with the Ukrainian president demanding to see the film before it was released due to his fears of the effect that the film would have on Polish-Ukrainian relations. Online book reviews show the passions this book, and Taras Bulba, arouse in Poles and Urkainians, who swap accusations of the authors distorting history and making villains out of heroes, and vice-versa. To me this is as ridiculous as the British getting bent out of shape about their portrayal in Last of the Mohicans. (But then, that was a problem recently with their portrayal in certain films...).
My negative review may not survive my reading the better translation of With Fire And Sword. But I doubt it.
kylark, Master. Master Skylark was created by John Bennett and appeared in Master Skylark, which was first serialized in St. Nicholas magazine in 1891 and then saw print as a book not long after. Bennett (1865-1956), an American, was a newspaper reporter and editor as well as an author of historicals for both children and adults.
Master Skylark is a little gem of a novel. It's short--only 191 pages in my Armont paperback edition--but has more excellent material in its brief span than With Fire And Sword (see above) does in its 750+ places. (A gratuitous shot at With Fire And Sword, I know, but Sienkiewicz scarred my psyche and darn near sapped my will to work on this site). "Master Skylark" is actually Nicholas Attwood, an eleven year old living in Stratford-on-Avon in England in 1596. He wants to see the acting troupe of the Lord Admiral's Players, but his father, a brutish, sullen sort, won't let him, so he runs away, intending to leg it down to Coventry, see the Players, stay with his cousin, and then return later. En route to Coventry Nick meets the scoundrelly Gaston Carew, who accompanies him on the road. Nick makes the mistake of singing as they go, and Carew is thunderstruck by Nick, whose voice is a marvel. Carew determines to profit from Nick’s talents, and so puts Nick on stage in Coventry. The audience loves him, and so Carew tries to take Nick to London and make money from him there. Nick refuses, wanting to return home to his beloved mother (a gentle woman who tries to defend Nick from his father). Carew kidnaps Nick and forces him to London. The rest of the story concerns Nick’s attempts to get home, Carew putting Nick on stage and earning great amounts of money from him, and Nick meeting Carew’s daughter Cicely. Eventually Carew is executed by the Crown for murder, Nick and Cicely return to Stratford, and Nick is reconciled with his father thanks to William Shakespeare’s words.
Nick is something of a momma’s boy, but he doesn’t lack spirit, and even though his sole desire (or seeming sole desire) is to return to Stratford to be with his mother he does his best to adapt to circumstances. He is not deterred by Carew’s threats and continually defies him by trying to escape. His singing is, by all accounts, quite wonderful, but it is his kindness that endears him to those who meet him.
It’s a real relief to read Master Skylark after the ponderous triple deckers of Bulwer Lytton and Sienkiewicz. Bennett does not write with didactic intent, unlike Sienkiewicz, and the novel is much more enjoyable as a result. Bennett’s experience as a poet is put to good use in the novel. Although the dialogue is utilitarian, the use of dialect is mild and inoffensive, and the descriptions of scenery and people are well-written. The recreation of Shakespeare’s era, of the world of inns and bustling small towns and the theatre, is completely convincing. Bennett interestingly defers Shakespeare’s appearance until late in the novel and thus builds up reader interest in him. Bennett’s characterization is deft. Nick is a real-seeming child, Carew is a realistically-drawn scoundrel, and the women of the novel, Cicely and Nick’s mother, are given depth not often seen in 19th century novels written by men. Barrett, in fact, does an excellent job at making his characters three-dimensional, and giving them a complexity unusual for the historical romance genre. Carew has a genuine love for his daughter, and Nick’s father Simon is sullen and brutal but loves Nick “in his surly way.” At the end of the story, when Shakespeare has forced a change of heart in Simon, he takes his wife aside and in a moving scene tells her he loves her, something he may never have said to her, and both are reduced to tears.
In all, Master Skylark is an excellent historical romance, and something that should be brought back into print and put on junior high school reading lists everywhere.
ofa, Mrs. Dawson's. Mrs. Dawson's Sofa was created by Elizabeth Gaskell and appeared in the short stories collected in Round the Sofa (1859). Elizabeth Gaskell, who may be better known to you as Mrs. Gaskell, was one of the more successful writers of the nineteenth century, and reading Round the Sofa I can understand why; she's entertaining. And Mrs. Dawson's Sofa...well, it's entertaining, in an evil, ominous way.
Y'see, Mrs. Dawson is a sweet woman who is crippled and forced to permanently reside in her brother's house, prone, on her sofa: "Mrs. Margaret Dawson passed whole days, and months, and years, without the power of moving by herself." Because of this condition her only outlet for social interaction is entertaining guests. And those guests, which come to include the young, female narrator (narratrix?), end up telling Mrs. Dawson stories. Horrible stories. Stories about races of accursed, despised, demeaned peoples in the Pyrenees, whose history is a long, tragic song of woe, humiliation, and desperation. Stories about family curses striking even unto the eighth generation, utterly destroying two separate families and leaving their houses "sunk into damp, dark ruins." Heart-wrenching stories about wasted lives. Women who become nuns, serving the common good, but who can still not escape their family curses. Stories of step-children hated by their parents, who die with broken hearts. Stories horribly sad and sadly horrible.
Who would tell these stories to cheer up a paralysed invalid? The ordinary humans stuck in Mr. Dawson's boarding house? No, no, a thousand times no. They'd tell cheerful stories. They'd tell stories that'd bring a smile to Mrs. Dawson's face, and to mine. No, these stories were not the product of human imagination. These stories were the product of an evil being, one who brings horror and sadness to all within its reach and who does so grinning.
These stories are the product of Mrs. Dawson's Sofa, the Sofa In Yellow, who lured Mrs. Dawson on to the sofa, trapped here there, and then lured innocent victims in to torment her with vicious, ugly, tragic stories.
P.S. The story about the step-children involves a dog, a collie, named Lassie saving her owner, who is trapped in a blinding snowstorm. That, from an 1859 story. Neat coincidence, eh?
olarion. Created by Edgar Fawcett (1847-1904) and appearing in the September 1889 issue of Lippincott's Magazine, and then later in Solarion: A Romance (1889), Solarion is an intelligent, talking dog. Kenneth Rodney Stafford, an American scientist, is brilliant (he knows all there is to know of chemistry and physics), with enormous powers of insight and deduction, but he is cold, vain, selfish, and monumentally irresponsible; in other words, he's straight from the Victor von Frankenstein mold. He hears about a German professor, one Conrad Klotz, who supposedly has written a revolutionary book, and so Stafford, quite curious, travels to Strassberg to meet Klotz. Klotz will not discuss his work and is initially hostile to Stafford, but Kenneth worms his way into the old man's affections and learns that Klotz was working on "experimental evolution," that is, the enhancement of intelligence by electrical means. Klotz won't tell the details, and as he dies he gives his book to Stafford, making Stafford swear to destroy it without reading it.
Stafford, being a thorough cad, reads the book anyhow, and is so taken with Klotz's brilliance that he decides to try out in practice what Klotz had proven in theory. Stafford returns to New England and builds a laboratory in the wilds of Massachusetts, somewhere near Arkham, and begins experimenting on dogs (the theory not being applicable to humans). The theory works on a golden retriever pup, whose brain is stimulated for months, until it is as intelligent as an adult male human when it is itself an adult, and can speak fluent English. Stafford calls it Solarion; Solarion is a beautiful, philosophical, moral dog with an insightful bent. Solarion and Stafford have long, philosophical discussions, with the similarities to Frankenstein being most obvious here, with Solarion suffering from the Monster's loneliness and Stafford's arguments echoing Frankenstein's Faustian nature. Solarion knows himself to be a Monster and disapproves of Stafford for creating him as well as for stealing Klotz's work, but he is as much a dog as a human and is still in love with his master. (Solarion is surprisingly good, and Fawcett does an excellent job of exploiting the animal/human duality of Solarion)
Stafford eventually gives the dog to Cecilia Effingham, a woman he is in love with (she is as cold and vain as he is), and begins getting reports from Solarion about Cecilia. Solarion, unfortunately, falls in love with Cecilia, and begins refusing to give Stafford any information about her. Stafford is outraged at this, and pained and jealous of Cecilia's suitor (Stafford's childhood friend), and goes to Cecilia's house. He confronts Solarion and orders him home, but Solarion refuses. Stafford draws his pistol, but Solarion succeeds in ripping half his face off before Stafford shoots him. Cecilia and her pleasant-but-vacant suitor marry and live happily ever after, and Stafford goes to Switzerland to recuperate, horribly disfigured but none the wiser.
ons of Britannia. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find a reading copy of this dreadful, so I'm only able to provide a little amount of information on it. It was very long serial that originally appeared in Young Englishman's Journal from 1870 to 1877. The plot involves a group of stalwart young British boys and teenagers of mixed background who travel abroad and meet various foreigners, who of course turn out to be not trustworthy, not moral, and most definitely Not Our Kind. There is a great deal of bloodshed and fighting, with the Britons proving triumphant, whether in the slums of Paris or Cairo. The most notable incident is in Turkey during the 1875-1876 Serbo-Turkish war, in which the Britons are horrified witnesses to the Bashi-Bazouks (the dreaded Turkish mercenaries) bayoneting Christian babies. One assumes that the Britons dealt with them, somehow.
onya. "Light-Fingered Sonya," a notable early Russian anti-heroine (not a crowded field, to be sure), was not created by any one author, but instead was the fictionalised version of Sophia "Sonya" Bliuvshtein, one of Tsarist Russia's most notorious and colorful criminals. She was a thief, pickpocket, murderess, bootlegger, adventuress (she was willing to use her body to get what she wanted), and all-around criminal, but she lived her life with such panache (she ran a still on the prison island of Sakhalin) that she intrigued Vlas Doroshevich, a popular journalist. He interviewed her at Sakhalin and his writings caught the imagination of the Russian public, who demanded and read fictionalised accounts of her life. Russia's first movie serial starred a character based on her and played by notable early actress Nina Gofman. Light-Fingered Sonya of the serials was a beautiful thief, the "Golden Hand," who led a gang of thieves in very successful robberies and murders across Russia and eastern Europe, breaking hearts and netting hundreds of thousands of rubles. She left behind her gang and ventured into western Europe, finding success in Monte Carlo and Rome but failing in London. (She used her body to charm the judge and escape with no jail time) She stole her way across America, the Middle East, and back through eastern Europe, in and out of jail there but always passionate and wily.
picer, Robert. Robert Spicer was created by Milton Danvers and appeared in A Desperate Dilemma (1892), The Grantham Mystery; or Confidence and Crime (1893), The Detective's Honeymoon; or The Doctor of the 'Pinjarrah' (1894), The Mysterious Disappearance of a Bride; or Who Was She? (1895), and The Fatal Finger Mark, Rose Courtenay's First Case (1895). Danvers, the creator of Rose Courtenay, is a British author about whom little is known.
Robert Spicer is a British detective, well respected by the public and by the police. He is the head of his own agency; Rose Courtenay was his first agent. He is “thoroughly seasoned and case-hardened.” His real name is Robert Spicer Jackson. He was educated to the Bar, but became a private investigator after witnessing and becoming disgusted with police bungling.
The Spicer mysteries are quite typical late Victorian mysteries. The narration and style is average at best, although there is more dialogue and first person narration than was the wont at that time. Otherwise, there is nothing distinctive about them.
pider of Guyana. The Spider of Guyana was created by "Erckmann-Chatrian" and appeared in "The Spider of Guyana," which appeared in the October 1893 issue of Romance Magazine. "Erckmann-Chatrian" was the pen-name of Emile Erckmann (1822-1899) and Alexandre Chatrian (1826-1890), two French novelists and playwrights of some note. "The Spider of Guyana" is about the resort town of Spinbronn, in Hundsruck, near Pirmasens in the mountains of Germany. The story describes why the town is no longer used as a resort. The waters were prescribed for sufferers of gout, and Spinbronn is a popular resort, esepcially for Dr. Daniel Haselnoss and his patients, which include Sir Thomas Hawerbrook, a stout Englishman and the favorite of Mr. Bremen, the story's narrator. Unfortunately, one day bodies start to emerge from the cavern which is the source of the waters of Spinbronn. The cavern is covered with moss, ivy, and shrubs and has not been plumbed, and so the bodies of birds which fell from the waters were unexplained but ignored. But in 1801 a human skeleton emerges, quickly followed by "a veritable ossuary...skeletons of animals of all sorts, quadrupeds, birds, reptiles. In fact, all the most horrible things that could be imagined." Dr. Christian Weber, a local doctor, had spent time in St. Domingo (Haiti) before and during the revolution there and returned to the Pirmasens with Agatha, a "an old negress...a very ugly old woman." (Unfortunately the portrayal of Agatha is somewhat racist). Agatha and the narrator like each other, and the narrator likes Sir Hawerbrook, and Sir Hawerbrook and Dr. Weber get along just fine, but they have a sharp disagreement over a spider of Guyana, which Dr. Weber is about to mount: "There...is the most hideous work of hte Creator. I tremble only to look at it." "Bah! That is all childish nonsense. You hear your nurse scream at a spider, you were frightened, and the impression has remained. But if you regard the creature with a strong microscope, you would be astonished by the delicacy of its organs, at their admirable arrangements, and even at their beauty."
Sir Hawerbrook and Mr. Bremen decide to climb up to the cavern from which the waters of the Spinbronn fall, and Sir Hawerbrook takes a swim in the lake outside the cavern. Sure enough, when Bremen returns from strawberry picking, Hawerbrook is gone. He sees "some dark, moving object" in the cavern and flees, panicked. He runs to Dr. Weber, who uses hypnosis on Agatha to force her to tell, using her Second Sight, what happened to Sir Hawerbrook. A giant spider of Guyana got him. So Dr. Weber organizes a lynch mob, and they smoke the spider out of its cavern and burn it to death.
"The Spider of Guyana" is not outright frightening, but it is an entertaining Big Bug story, done with a straightforward seriousness that later, campier stories are unable to assume. Erckmann & Chatrian were later praised by the likes of M.R. James and H.P. Lovecraft, but although the tale is told neatly and cleanly I was not overly impressed with it. It is entertaining, and I can see how it was influential on later Big Bug stories, but as a horror story it lacks much in the way of the ability to cause fear in the modern reader.
The spider is "as large as a man...reddish violet in color, and most repulsive in appearance." It feasts on larger game than usual, obviously, but even the normal spiders of Guyana eat birds.
pring-Heeled Jack. This particular Spring-Heeled Jack was created by Alfred Burrage and appeared in The Spring-Heeled Jack Library #1-12 (19 March-May 1904).
There have been several Spring-Heeled Jacks. Or perhaps there haven’t. He’s a figure of British folklore and urban legend going back to 1838 and perhaps farther, but whether he actually existed or not isn't known. I don’t have the definitive work on the subject of SHJ, Mike Dash’s 121 page article in Fortean Studies, but there are more than enough web sites which will give you at least a start on the subject: Foaftale News, Spring Heeled Jack, Myths and Legends, Spring-Heeled Jack: The Legend, and X-Project. But, as is the case with all too many web sites, even these sites get some small details wrong, often because they make use of Peter Haining’s work on SHJ, not knowing that Haining is a serial liar whose work is not to be trusted.
There have also been various fictional Spring-Heeled Jacks, beginning with various penny dreadfuls in the 19th century and still appearing as late as 1991, with Philip Pullman’s Spring-Heeled Jack. (Yes, the same Philip Pullman who wrote the “His Dark Materials” trilogy). The first fictional SHJ appeared in 1840 in John Thomas Haines’ play Spring-Heeled Jack, The Terror of London. Later that decade Jack’s first penny dreadful appearance came in the anonymously written Spring-Heeled Jack, The Terror of London. Later versions included: an 1863 play, Spring-Heel’d Jack: or, The Felon’s Wrongs, written by Frederick Hazleton; Spring-heel’d Jack: The Terror of London, a dreadful published by the Newsagents’ Publishing Company circa 1864-1867; Spring-heel’d Jack: The Terror of London, a 48-part penny weekly serial published circa 1878/1879 in The Boys’ Standard and possibly written by either veteran dreadful author George Sala (creator of Charley Wag) or Alfred Burrage under his pseudonym of “Charlton Lea;” Spring-Heel Jack; or, The Masked Mystery of the Tower, appearing in Beadle’s New York Dime Library #332, 4 March 1885, and written by Col. Thomas Monstery (creator of the Demon Duelist); an 1889-1890 48-part serial published by Charles Fox and written by Alfred Burrage in his pseudonym of “Charlton Lea;” and the 1904 Alfred Burrage version.
The Jack described here is the Burrage version, which is the easiest one to locate and read. (I have access to the Boys’ Standard edition (thanks to Justin Gilbert’s excellent penny dreadful page) and intend to summarize that one eventually). The Burrage version is not the first to feature SHJ as a proto-superhero; that was the 1860s edition. But since I have read the Burrage version, I’m going to include it here, even though, strictly speaking, it’s outside the chronological limits of this site.
The story is set in the early 1803 or 1804, after Napoleon has conquered Europe but before Britain has declared war on France. Bertram Wraydon, a lieutenant in the British Army and the handsome young heir to £10,000 a year, is framed for treason by his “sallow,” evil half-brother Hubert Sedgefield, and Sedgefield’s ally Colonel Manfred, one of Wraydon’s commanding officers. The night before he is to be expected Wraydon is allowed to escape from his cell by his friend Colonel Philbrick. Wraydon returns home to avenge himself on Sedgefield and quickly becomes a local sensation, fighting evil-doers in his creepy-looking costume and helping innocents. A Bow Street detective is sent after him, but SHJ eludes him. SHJ is assisted in this by his old friends and former comrades-in-arms Denis Stocks and Billy Nibbs. Later in the series he goes to France to fight Napoleon’s men, including the vile Chevalier Le Rouge and Captain Fevre, who pays Colonel Manfred to betray England. The series ends before Wraydon can reclaim his inheritance and properly punish his half-brother.
The Spring-Heeled Jack stories are standard story paper stories, moderately entertaining but of no lasting value. The figure of Spring-Heeled Jack, though, is interesting. As with the 1860s version of the character, the Burrage SHJ is in nearly all respects a superhero, and so stands as an important predecessor to the costumed heroes of the pulps and later the comics. The Burrage SHJ was a secret identity. He has a costume. He has a secret headquarters, a crypt in a graveyard in which is hidden some of his inheritance, which he uses to fund his activities. He has seemingly superhuman powers: he leaps thirty feet and more, his touch brings electric shocks to villains, and he vanishes and appears in a frightening and superhuman manner, very similar to the way that Batman does it. He leaves a calling card behind, an “S” carved into the forehead of his enemies. (Quite similar to Zorro, actually, down to the “S” being the reverse of Zorro’s “Z,” but of course Burrage wrote his SHJ story 15 years before Johnston McCulley wrote the first Zorro story). He is active on top of buildings and uses them as a way to get around, jumping from chimney-stack to chimney-stack, ala Spider-Man and Batman. And, in proper cowboy/pulp/killer vigilante fashion, he uses pistols in both hands as well as “thin, supple” rapier.
Wraydon is young and handsome. Spring-Heeled Jack, however, is another matter. In his costume he is described like so:
His eyes were no longer soft and kind, but gleaming with a fierce light. His face had become fiendish with painted eyebrows and stiff, bristling mustache. His hands had grown larger and the nails of his fingers were long and hooked.And
The uncanny figure became visible and invisible by turns. It was that of a man wearing a tight-fitting tunic, slashed in front with white, as though his ribs were laid bare. But whoever dreamed of a man taking such leaps, or looked up such eyes as gleamed from the demoniacal head upon which sat a tight-fitting cap surmounted with a feather.He has a “pair of eyes in a devilish face,” the “agility of an ape,” a “pair of bat-like wings,” and to freak out his enemies he “flapped and wriggled on (his) hands and toes like some uncouth monster.” And he utters a “mocking laughter” to further unnerve them. Finally, he engages in fustian when confronting his enemies: “Ha, ha, ha! The hour of retribution will come! Unholy wretches and perjurers, thieves and villains, the earth shall not hide you from me! An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth!” “Avaunt! Quit this place, or die!”
tähl, Felix. Felix Stähl was created by Louisa May Alcott and appeared in "The Fate of the Forrests" (Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, 11-25 February 1865). Alcott (1832-1888) is best known for her writing for children, including Little Women and Little Men; what is less known is that Alcott wrote a few suspense and thriller stories for two of the Frank Leslie family of dime novels. "Lost in a Pyramid" (see the Seeds entry above) is one of those stories. "The Fate of the Forrests" is another.
Ursula Forrest is a beautiful woman seemingly in love with her cousin Evan, who utterly adores her. But when the mysterious Felix Stähl appears on the scene, that changes. He has mystic abilities, including mesmerism, and can see into people's hearts as well as prophesy, and he whispers something into Ursula's ear which changes everything. She agrees to marry him, and does so, despite Evan's objections and her own ambivalence. The marriage is not a happy one; Felix loves her, but she only obeys him. They quarrel (a lot), and while he's mad for her and will do anything to make her happy, she treats him coldly. Even while he is declining (his health is delicate) she only tolerates him.
The secret behind their marriage is revealed at the end of the story. Ursula’s grandfather was governor of an Indian province, and one of the native princes offered his daughter to Ursula’s grandfather as a bridge. Ursula’s grandfather, already betrothed, declined, thus earning the wrath of the spurned woman. So a curse descended upon Ursula’s family, the Forrests: that every male member of their family should die, both then and forever. The Indian woman belonged to the Thuggees, and they saw to it that the male Forrests died violently over the years. Felix Stähl was one of the grandchildren of the Indian woman, and he recognized Ursula and Evan (her cousin, remember) as the last of the Forrests, and therefore his victims. (Well, Evan would be. Ursula was to remain “scatheless”). But Felix was smitten with Ursula, and decided that rather than murder her he would marry her, “well knowing that for you life without me would be a fate more dark than any death he could devise.”
Felix dies, Ursula is charged with his murder, and the strain of jail kills her, and the reader is left with a sad ending to an entertaining, if light-weight, Thuggee/family curse story.
tanley, Hagar. The divine Hagar Stanley was introduced in Fergusson Wright Hume's Hagar of the Pawnshop, The Gypsy Detective (1898). Hume was a British author of mystery and romantic fiction who practiced law in Australia in his adult life. He wrote over 130 novels, but is not widely- or well-remembered today; one critic has described him as "a hack writer whose other books did not sell well; in fact, his work is largely unreadable." That may be true of his other romances and detective novels (although his 1886 The Mystery of a Hansom Cab, which I have not read, was the 19th century's best-selling detective novel), but Hagar of the Pawnshop is a joy.
As is Hagar herself. One of the real pleasures of trawling through the forgotten literature of the Victorian era is discovering novels and characters never heard of today, but are nonetheless great fun. A Parisian Sultana was one such book; Hagar of the Pawnshop was another. Hagar Stanley is a "gypsy girl." (The term "gypsy" is actually offensive to that group of people, who prefer the term "Romany," or "Rom" for short, and so even though the novel uses "gypsy" and "Romany" interchangeably, I'll use "Romany" exclusively) She is bought as a slave by Jacob Dix, the owner of a pawnshop, who puts her to work for him in the pawnshop. Jacob dies, and Hagar, who actually had affection for Dix and goes into mourning for him once he dies, is forced to handle the will. Dix leaves the shop to another Rom, one who unsuccessfully pressed his romantic suit against her and, failing that, was responsible for driving her from her camp. Despite her loathing for him, she tries her best to find him and give the shop to him. While she does that, she takes care of the shop, and solves such mysteries as come her way.
The best way to describe Hagar is "cool." She's cool under pressure and cool in dangerous situations; when faced with an angry Englishman, who is bigger and stronger than she is, she promptly boxes his ears and completely breaks his spirit, so that he is afraid of her from that point on. She's described as having a "strict sense of duty, her upright nature, and her determination to act honestly, even when her own interests were at stake," as she did with the pawnshop. (Goliath, her Romany suitor, eventually appears, but she gets the pawnshop anyhow, for he ends up in jail after committing a crime. Hagar, naturally, is the one to solve it). She has an equal interest in justice and mercy, something all-too-rare among the Victorian-era detectives, even those who, like Loveday Brooke and Dick Donovan, made a point of tempering the former with the latter. She's also smart--smart enough to outfox the lawyer who tried to take Jacob's pawnshop away from her and smart enough to solve every mystery that comes her way. She's got a quick wit, giving as well as she gets in some quite amusing exchanges. She's self-possessed, and though capable of emotions (she's taken with one young man, who eventually ends up marrying her after she helps him from a muddle) is free of the hysterical personality so many Victorian female characters seem to have. She's pretty, but always dresses in black, still being in mourning for Jacob. Finally, she's experienced in the ways of crime and criminals, having learned from Jacob things like invisible ink and cyphers. Hagar is moral, upright, smart, and tough. She's damn near ideal.
tavros, Hadji. Hadji Stavros was created by Edmond About and appeared in Le Roi des Montagnes (The King of the Mountains, 1857). About (1828-1885) was a French writer, satirist and academician who published, among a number of other works, an early story about suspended animation. The King of the Mountains was very popular in its time, being a sort of updated räuberroman (see the Rinaldo Rinaldini entry) as well as a precursor to the Don Q stories.
Hadji Stavros is the leader of a band of thugs who roam the Attic mountains of Greece, holding travellers for ransom. Stavros isn't just any gang leader, however. He's exceptional in a number of respects. He began as a patriotic pirate fighting against the Turks during the Greek War of Independence and then continued the war against them from land. Stavros became an international hero because of this; Byron dedicated an ode to him, Parisian poets compared him to the heroes of the classics, and citizen organizations in France, England and Russia sent him money to continue the fight against the Turks. But when the war was over Stavros ran into difficulty, because he was unwilling to pay taxes for the money he had. So he continued his banditry, this time focussing on travellers. His success attracted others to him, so that by the time of The King of the Mountains he has an enormous gang, who obey him completely. (Those who do not are killed). Stavros' profits are enormous, in part because he is not choosy about his crimes: "a simple theft or a glorious raid was equally welcome. This wise impartiality rapidly increased his fortune. Shepherds on learning that they had a chance with him of getting as much gold as glory, flocked under his lead, and thus it came to pass that, thanks to his reputation, he soon had an army at his command." The other members of his gang spend their money as bandits usually do, but Stavros is much too wise for that. By this time he had a daughter, and he felt the need to guarantee her future, so he temporarily left the gang and educated himself. He then traveled around Europe, learning what he could from civilization, and then returned to the mountains. Rather than keep his money in the mountains he had it invested overseas, in England and in Europe, and from the mountains he sent daily letters to his bankers telling them how to manage his finances. (He invests conservatively, preferring low-yield but reliable accounts).
Stavros is called "The King of the Mountains" because of his complete rule of the area. The local Greeks continue to see him as a hero, even though he sometimes prey on him. The Greeks sympathize with the brigands; the Greeks "scolded publicly and petted in private" Stavros. He augments his income by hiring out to politicians and holding their enemies. He even loots ships, so strong is his army. Of course, by the end of The King of the Mountains his army is dead or scattered and he has retired, deciding that government is the way to go and so trying to become the Minister of Justice.
Stavros is a jolly, conscienceless murderer. He's quite sober, and he treats his guests well, but those who displease him, or betray him, or disobey him, or those whose loved ones cannot pay the ransom, are killed. He's cruel, but usually in a muted, almost dispassionate way, seeing it merely as the cost of doing business, so that when a mother has no money with which to pay the ransom of two teenaged girls, Stavros rather off-handedly orders their death. Those who defy him bring out his worst side, and he vigorously approves of brutality against them, even down to burning children alive. Stavros does enjoy torturing, though, and is robust in his appetites. He is a "fine old man, upright, thin, supple, clean and polished like a new sword." He has an excellent memory, dictating his accounts, including long strings of sums, to his bankers from memory. Stavros is, or was, a Muslim, hence "Hadji."
As might be imagined, The King of the Mountains was extremely unpopular with the Greeks, who felt unfairly maligned by About. The truth was that brigandage was a serious problem in Greece, the state of affairs was quite close to what About described, and the novel as a whole was what the Encyclopedia Britannica called "a pardonable exaggeration." About may have held Greece and the Greeks in contempt, but his work wasn't far off the mark.
team House. The Steam House first appeared in Jules Verne's The Steam House (1881). (For more information on Verne, look at the Robur entry) The Steam House is actually a gigantic mechanical elephant driven by a powerful steam engine. The story behind this is that Colonel Edward Munro's friend "Banks the Engineer" builds this so that Munro, Banks, and their friends can travel across India in it; they want to go from Bengal to Bombay, sightseeing and hunting as they go, without having to rely upon the railway. Unfortunately, the time is 1865-1866, and Nana Sahib well remembers the Indian Mutiny of 1847 and is plotting for a new uprising. Nana particularly has it in for Col. Munro, who committed various atrocities against Nana's family and friends. (The British are not the good guys in this story) Munro, in turn, hates Nana, because he incorrectly believes that Nana murdered the Colonel's wife. Munro takes the Steam House across India, and it proves to be a reliable and useful vehicle, but when the Indians attack Munro and his friends are forced to abandon it, and the Indians blow it up. (Munro eventually escapes and Nana is killed) The elephant is built on wheels and powered by steam; it pulls two large houses, each about 18' by 45'. The elephant is armor-plated and can roll about 15 mph and around 30 mph for short runs in an emergency.
tein, Professor Carl. Professor Carl Stein was created by Col. Richard Henry Savage and appeared in The Anarchist; a story of today (1894). Savage (1846-1903) was author of various Romances (in the old meaning of the word) and was a soldier, lawyer, engineer, and reportedly the loose model for Lester Dent’s Doc Savage.
The Anarchist is one of a number of Victorian anarchist/terrorist novels (see for example the Dr. Schultz and Anarchists entries). Unfortunately, most of them were not very good, something that is regrettably true of The Anarchist. It is nakedly didactic, and while this needn’t be an impediment to good writing, in the case of The Anarchist it is. Discussing anarchism in his preface, Savage says, "organized cosmopolitan repression will be the stern answer of the civilized world to the dark creed of Destruction.” The novel is set in a near future in which Anarchism is triumphing over civilization and sweeping the world; one character speaks of "flaming Cincinnati, sacked Pittsburgh, and great New York under mob rule! The poison of anarchy is daily infiltrated through every industrial stratum!" The plot involves the wealthy American heiress Evelyn Hartley and the efforts of her tutor, Professor Carl Stein, to gain control over her and her riches. Stein doesn't want to marry Evelyn because "she would never waken to life under my wooing," so he tries to arrange her marriage to men under his control. He wants her money to fund The Revolution. He tries to get it. He fails.
There’s a lot more to the novel, but that’s the gist of it, and you’d be as bored reading any longer summary of it as I was bored reading it.
Stein is a German emigre. He learned early on that life was a bitter struggle; he had a “stern and unlovely” boyhood of desperate poverty. He was self-taught despite that, and learned much, especially in 1849 when his father was imprisoned in Russia for anarchy. That confirmed Stein’s opinion that wealth was crime, and so he went to study under Bakunin himself. Bakunin then sent Stein to America to "sow the seeds of Revolution and educate generations." Stein is not a Communist, however. He’s an anarchist and a nihilist:
Bakunin was right! The ultra-nihilists are logical! Thrones must be emptied by assassination! Palaces wrecked! Wealth must shudder in its bed of doom! First, individuals, then the sordid oppressors of the poor, last the whole social system!Toward that end he works as an agent of the “Congress without records,” the General Committee of the anarchists. This August group is international in composition and is led by the Russian Prince Davidoff, the “modern Faust” and “Hell’s High Priest.”
Stein is a vigorous 43, with a “ringing manly voice,” a “springing step,” a “strong, masterful face,” and grey eyes which flash yellow as he thinks: “a dreaming, human tiger.” He’s a "singular man" whose "ability is marvelous." He is lauded in scholarly circles and his "mental activity and singularly graceful cosmopolitan manners" give him "distinction in every society." He’s a graduate of Heidelberg who worked at various German embassies; it was this experience which enabled him to become Evelyn Hartley’s tutor. From that position he manipulates her life and that of her family, and also puts great psychological pressure on the Polish count Stanislas Oborski, who becomes his slave. But it all ends badly for Stein, as it should; he is stabbed in the back by Melchior the Gypsy, who had previously warned him, "You know now one dark secret of the Zingari...Beware the gypsy doom!" But Stein did not, and so he died.
The Anarchist is not well-written or particularly interesting. The characterization is over-obvious, the dialogue is infected by question marks and exclamation points, Savage has far too many infodumps in the guise of dialogue, and there are pages-long monologues of philosophy, and shrill, screeching lecturing. The interesting evil of Stein is nowhere near enough to offset the novel’s flaws.
tornaway, Dick. Created by E.H. Burrage, the author of Ching-Ching, Stornaway appeared in Dick Stornaway, or, A hero in spite of his foes, in Best for Boys Library #3 (1892). Stornaway is in many ways a stereotypical British boys' adventure character, in the vein of Tom Floremall and Jack Jaunty. Enough so, in fact, that I'm not going to devote as much space to the character as I have to many others. Stornaway, an upright and moral young British youth, is framed by the bullies of the school, who dislike him because he's so popular with the younger kids and the masters of the school. So the bullies, including Bad Jack (so-called because of his indulgence in smoking and drinking) (horrors!), make it look like Dick's been cheating on his exams. The masters, shocked, buy into this, and expel him. Various adventures follow as Dick tries to find his biological parents (he was left on the doorstep of a kindly pair of elderly farmers when he was a child) and right his name. Dick thwarts various highwaymen and muggers, gets a Fallen Woman to go to church, helps stop a mutiny and then fight off pirates, and then helps an elderly minister before discovering that his parents died in an accident but that he's also got a very nice aunt and uncle who take him in and help him claim his inheritance and his ancestral mansion. (All these schoolboys had ancestral mansions waiting for them). Dick returns in glory to the school and Bad Jack is expelled.
trid, The. The Strid I write of is not the dangerous length of water in Yorkshire, where many have died, but rather the fictional Strid which appears in Gertrude Atherton's "The Striding Place," which first appeared in the 20 June 1896 issue of The Speaker. Atherton, who is also mentioned on this site in the Doomswoman entry, is mostly forgotten now but during her lifetime was a notable Western author. I was not positively impressed with Atherton's style in The Doomswoman; in fact, I see from rereading that I entry that I was rather flippantly unkind toward her. But, as I did with Bulwer Lytton, I'm revisiting Atherton after some time and coming to a much better impression of her. Or perhaps it's just that she works much better in the short story mode than at novel length. Either way, "The Striding Place" is a well-done horror story.
Weigall, an Englishman, is on a weekend shooting trip in the West Riding of Yorkshire. He's out of sorts, however, because the weather's bad, the company poor, the shooting tedious, he's "continental and detached," but most of all because his best friend Wyatt Gifford has disappeared. Gifford was a guest at an adjoining estate, and one night simply walked out without hat or overcoat and did not return. Though dozens of men were looking for him, he had not been found. This weighs on Weigall's spirit, because he loves Gifford, not in a sexual way but in the deep true way of the closest of friends. Weigall thinks about his conversations with Gifford, and how Gifford said, and probably believed, that the soul "sometimes lingers in the body after death," and how he intends to return to his body after he dies, even if the body is damaged: "I should rather enjoy experimenting with broken machinery." One night, restless, Weigall goes for a walk along the river through the woods and comes to the Strid. There he sees
something tossing in the foam below the fall--something as white, yet independent of it--caught his eye and arrested his step. Then he saw that it was describing a contrary motion to the rushing water--an upward backward motion. Weigall stood rigid, breathless; he fancied he heard the crackling of his hair. Was that a hand? It thrust itself still higher above the boiling foam, turned sidewise, and four frantic fingers were distinctly visible against the black rock beyond.Weigall immediately pulls a branch free of a tree, leans over the water, and thrusts the branch at the hand, which grabs the branch. Weigall pulls, and the hand and then the arm come free of the river. Weigall recognizes the cuffs and the fingers, and pulls harder. There's life in the hand, and it eventually wrenches itself and the branch free of Weigall's grasp, and the body is flung into a nearby pool. Weigall carries Gifford on to land and moves to resuscitate, but then looks at Gifford: "there was no face."
Atherton thought "The Striding Place" was the best story she ever wrote. Aficionados generally rank this story highly. I didn't find it frightening* but I did find it very effective. "The Striding Place" might or might not be a ghost story--did Gifford come back to occupy his body for one last time?--and it might or might not a story about a Wrong Place--was the Strid just toying with Weigall and using Gifford's corpse to do so?--but either way, the ending has a very effective horror to it. Atherton tells the story well, nicely portraying Weigall's and Gifford's characters and investing some emotion in their friendship, evoking the atmosphere of the Strid, and setting up and completing the plot, all in around 2300 words. Atherton's style is vivid, with well-chosen phrases which convey exactly the effects she was striving for. I well understand why "The Striding Place" is esteemed.
* As an aside, I apologize for giving so much information about the plot of "The Striding Place." It's the dilemma faced by reviewers of horror stories: how much of the plot do you tell? Too much, and you ruin the story. Not enough, and you're too vague to entice someone to read the story. In my case I think that most of the horror stories I'm going to review are effective not because of plot but because of style, and so I'll explain the story and then try to say something about the style of the story which will make people want to read the story.
The e-text of the story.
ufrah. Sufrah was created by Marcel Schwob and appears in “Sufrah, Geomancer” (Imaginary Lives, 1896). Schwob (1867-1905) was the creator of Septima (see above), and I have information on him in that entry.
“Sufrah, Geomancer” is a kind of sequel to the Arabian Nights. Moghrabi Sufrah is the magician who is Aladdin’s enemy, but as “Sufrah, Geomancer” tells us, at the end of the story his body was not burned black by the drug he consumed, but rather put into a deep, deep sleep. Sufrah escapes from Aladdin’s palace through a window while Aladdin is making love to the princess. But when Aladdin’s palace disappears to China, as happens in the original story, Sufrah is left alone in the open desert, without any food or water. Nor does he have any magic charms he can cast or magic items he can use to rescue himself. Sufrah prepares to die, but that night, slightly relieved from the awful heat of the sunlight of the day, he traces a magic figure in the sand and does a minor forecast of his life. He comes up with “Fortune Major” and sees that he will escape. Sufrah traces another magic figure, running his fortune through the twelve houses of astrology. He sees Fortune Major in the first house, foretelling success and glory, but in the eighth house he sees the Red One, the “messenger of blood, fire, and omen sinister.” Sufrah’s final conclusion from the casting is that “he would find glory at great peril in some shut and secret place.” Sufrah, now confident that he will survive, traces another magic incantation in the sand, trying to find out who was the first owner of Aladdin’s lamp. Sufrah discovers that it was Solomon, and then finds out where King Solomon is buried. The next dawn Sufrah is found by a group of Bedouins and given dates and water. Sufrah walks until he comes to the correct location, then performs a ritual which opens an entrance to Solomon’s tomb. Sufrah enters it and takes from the hand of King Solomon the ring that is his seal and which grants immortality to its wearer. Solomon’s body immediately crumbles to dust. At that same moment the Red One smites Sufrah, who spends “all the blood of his life in one vermilion gush” before the sleep of immortality takes him. Sufrah lays himself down on Solomon’s diamond couch, and the door to the tomb shuts behind him.
Like “Septima, Enchantress,” “Sufrah, Geomancer” is a dark fantasy. “Sufrah” is not written in the same detached and ironic tone and lush vocabulary as “Septima,” but is instead written in the style of the Arabian Nights. But “Sufrah” does have vivid imagery as well as a dark, ironic twist, and (as with all of Schwob’s work) is quite readable.
Sufrah was evil to Aladdin, but in “Sufrah, Geomancer” he is not evil so much as short-sighted. As in all good tales of this sort, Sufrah did not think his prediction through. Had he shown wisdom, he’d have avoided Solomon’s tomb. But a lust for power and immortality overrode his common sense, with the result I have told you about.
ully, Duc de. This fictional version of the Duc de Sully was created by the great Stanley Weyman and appeared in From the Memoirs of a Minister of France (1895). I've covered Weyman in the Vicomte de Saux entry above; suffice it to say that he was the best of the Yellow Nineties (or Age of the Storyteller) swashbuckler writers, and someone who I think is crying out to be reprinted. (Hey, Samuel Shellabarger just got reprinted, why not Weyman?)
The Duc de Sully was of course a real person: Maximilien de Bethune, Duc de Sully (1560-1641), adviser to and favorite of King Henry IV of France, a Huguenot, a skilled and honest man of finance, a soldier, a man widely disliked by nearly everyone but the King. The real Duc is a fascinating character, and a number of novels have been written about him. It's hard to imagine that any of them would be better than From the Memoirs, which is outstanding, in Jessica Amanda Salmonson's words "a good candidate for True Masterpiece for the swashbuckler genre." From the Memoirs is a collection of a dozen short stories set in France from the 1590s through 1610. Reading the stories it becomes clear that Weyman researched the era thoroughly, even reading the Duc de Sully's (heavily fictionalized) memoirs; the recreation of the time and place is flawless, even assuming that the portrayals of the Duc and of Henry IV are romanticized. (Or in the Duc's case, almost completely fiction). The Duc isn't a typical swashbuckler, although the real Duc's earlier career as a gunner and engineer would certainly lend himself to stories like that. The Duc is actually an older man (older in the stories than he was at similar times in real life), and his skill isn't with the sword but with the mind. The Duc is clever, a regular at Henry's court and so quite adept at political in-fighting. The Duc is an honest man, but he's not stupid and he's very aware of how quickly reputations (and the favor of the King) can be lost, and how quickly the King can be led astray by his heart or groin, and so the Duc takes action at the slightest sign of trouble. So when a clockmaker schemes to set the King up with his daughter, the Duc sees to it that the King's mistress is assuaged and the daughter fobbed off on someone else. When a Spaniard schemes to poison the King, the Duc cleverly sees to it that the Spaniard takes the poison himself. When a special cipher goes missing which only the Duc and the King use, the Duc solves the mystery of who stole it, and why. When peasants are groaning and miserable because of a cruel tax gatherer, the Duc sees to it that the tax gatherer and the rich merchants who give him bribes are punished. And so on.
I'm not doing From the Memoirs of a Minister of France justice. It's not full of flashing blades and derring do. It's full of clever mysteries cunningly solved, witty repartee, historical scenes and people vividly recreated, and enjoyable, stylish prose. It's really very good.
utton, Bernard. Bernard Sutton was created by Max Pemberton and appeared in a series of stories which were collected in Jewel Mysteries I Have Known: From A Dealer's Notebook (1894). Pemberton (1863-1950) was the creator of Captain Black, and I have some biographical information on him there.
Sutton is by profession a dealer in precious stones, gems and jewels. Thanks to his business he is brought into contact with several people who are either criminals or the victims of crimes and so is called upon to solve those crimes. He is not a professional detective, consulting or otherwise; he is at all times a jewel dealer. He just happens to keep getting involved in crime solving.
The Sutton stories are interesting for a couple of reasons. As a detective Sutton is extremely basic. He thinks hard about the cases he’s involved with and carefully questions the victims and criminals, but he’s as often helped by luck as by anything he does as a detective. Because of his business he is careful about thieves, employing one man solely as a guard for his West End (London) store and bodyguard for himself. This care he applies to the cases. But beyond an above average intelligence and a careful approach he is nothing extraordinary as a detective. Unlike many of his contemporaries he thinks well of Scotland Yard and the men who work there, and when he is scornful of them he learns the error of his ways.
Sutton is one of the best known, if not the best known, jewelers in England, and deals with High Society (though not royalty) on a consistent basis. Wealthy men and women form his clientele, both as a jeweler and as a crime solver. He is well-known in Paris as well as London, and is approached by clients even in Paris. He is not extroverted; he never canvasses clients, and in fact seems like he’d be just as happy never getting involved in crime solving. But the clients keep coming to him.
Sutton is somewhat wry as a character. His morality is that of the Victorian middle class, but he’s generally not stiff or lacking in compassion or understanding. He appreciates “impertinence” in his trade and in his hobby, although he is not himself impertinent. His one really distinguishing characteristic is his “stone hunger” or “jewel hunger,” a consuming desire for particularly valuable stones. It’s a common enough affliction in the trade, he tells us, and his own case of the disease is mild compared to some of the misers he sees.
The stories themselves are not great as mysteries; the crimes, criminals, and methods of the crimes are straightforward. But Pemberton is skilled enough as a writer to make the stories absorbing anyhow. They have intelligent plots and are well-written as a whole. The characterization, though brief, is interesting, Pemberton puts his own knowledge of gems and gemology to good use without being flashy about it, and there’s even the occasional epigram: “The principal actors held their tongues, and in due time the West forgot, for a new scandal arose, and the courts supplied the craving for the doubtful, which is a part of polite education nowadays.” There’s a fair bit of opinion in the stories, too. Pemberton is not complimentary of the French police (another way in which he differs from many of his contemporary mystery writers). He is benignly contemptuous of Americans, benignly xenophobic about Algerians, and even indulges in the occasional comment of social concern, as with his shots at a particularly greedy landlord.
What really struck me about the Pemberton stories, though, is that some of them are quite dark, with endings that are bittersweet at best. A story about a seemingly cursed opal ends with a suicide. Another story ends with a lover left insane of a broken heart. A third story, about a cursed topaz, ends with an innocent young woman dead and Sutton unwilling to let anyone buy the topaz for fear of more murders. Other stories are black comedies: a miser/gem hound has the screws put to him by his nephew, with the connivance of Sutton; a roué is humiliated, as he deserves; and Sutton himself is hypnotized and duped by a clever adventuress. And then there are the more usual kinds of stories: the recovery of a stolen jewel in Algiers, a swindler apprehended, and a gang of jewel thieves preying on the rich at society balls stopped by Sutton.
Pemberton’s stories are not in the upper rank of Victorian detective fiction, but they are quite entertaining and very readable.
vengali. Svengali was created by George Du Maurier and appeared in Trilby (1894). Du Maurier (1834-1896) is little remembered today, and that for being the grandfather of Daphne Du Maurier (of Rebecca fame), but in his time he was a notable figure, not just for his illustrations for Punch but also for his writing. (The redoubtable Victorian Web has a good biography of George). But in one sense Du Maurier has achieved literary immortality: he created the word “svengali.” Trilby was obscenely successful, being one of the 19th century’s best-sellers, and “svengali” entered the English language as a general noun rather than as a proper name. No small legacy, that.
Trilby is about five people: Taffy, Sandy, and Little Billee, two Englishman and a Scotsman, living in Paris and living the bohemian lifestyle of artists; Trilby, a girl-from-the-block and artist’s model (remember that this was 1895, and so recall the negative connotations that accompanied being an artist’s model at that time); and Svengali, an evil musician with great mesmerist skill. Taffy, Sandy, and Little Billee, the heroes of the piece, are all in love with Trilby, to varying degrees. But it is Svengali who “wins” her, after a fashion. After Little Billee badgers Trilby into agreeing to marry him, Little Billee’s priggish mother forces Trilby to admit that she’s not good enough for Little Billee, and so Trilby leaves Paris. Little Billee has an epileptic seizure (“it ended in brain-fever and other complications”) and returns to England, and the carefree life of Our Three Heroes ends. Five years later, Trilby reappears, now in thrall to Svengali and an internationally-renowned singing sensation. Once she sees Little Billee, however, she snaps out of the trance. Svengali is attacked first by his First Violin and then by his manservant, and then dies of heart disease. Trilby wastes away and Little Billee dies young, leaving the amiable Taffy and Sandy to live Happily Ever After.
For years I’ve been applying mental bastinados for not having included Svengali on this site. He’s one of the most famous Victorian characters, after all–his very name has become a byword in the English language. Trilby was enormously successful as a book and a play. Svengali deserved inclusion here. And yet I never quite got around to reading Trilby until now, when the pressure is on to turn this site into an encyclopedia. So it was with some anticipation and a gratified sense of being able to cross this book of my To Read list that I began reading Trilby.
Oy. What a piece of crap.
Hardly the most precise term in a critical’s arsenal, I admit, but sometimes there’s no other way to describe a book. The most damning problem for the book is the rampant anti-Semitism. Although Du Maurier does through in the occasional kind word for those of “Jewish blood,” most of the novel is filled with derogatory slurs about Jews and being Jewish. And Svengali himself is a rank anti-Semitic stereotype (shame on you, George Du Maurier–shame, shame). Even apart from Du Maurier’s hatred of Jews, however, Trilby has other difficulties. Much of the dialogue is in untranslated French, and slangy French at that, which can be a trial for those of us whose French is less than perfect. Du Maurier’s depiction of life in bohemian Paris is romanticized beyond the point of credibility. The tone Du Maurier tries to establish for the book–breezy, slangy, conversational–grows increasingly affected and strained. Du Maurier attempts to make his characters free spirits, but too many of them are prigs, hamstrung by stolid middle-class Victorian morality. Trilby is far more attractive as the soiled dove than as the reformed, saccharine good girl. And some of the plot twists are, to be kind, hard to credit.
Svengali himself is something of a Gothic villain. He possess Trilby, so that even after she awakens from her years-long trance, he still has his claws in her soul, and her last words are his name. But Svengali lacks the joy of a good Gothic villain. He’s wretched in addition to grasping, vain greasy (as I said, Du Maurier trots out a number of anti-Semitic stereotypes), lustfilled, greedy, wheedling, and cruel:
Such was Svengali - only to be endured for the sake of his music - always ready to vex, frighten, bully, or torment anybody or anything smaller and weaker than himself - from a woman or a child to a mouse or a fly.Had Svengali really enjoyed his evil, he might have been a better villain, but as it is he’s too unhappy, even when he’s trotting Trilby around as his “wife,” to be a classic.
Now, Dear Reader, I’ve read Trilby for you. I recommend you never do the same.
venson, Olaf. Olaf Svenson was created by Colonel Thomas Monstery and appeared in a series of short stories beginning in the Beadle & Adams dime novel The Saturday Journal, with “Iron Wrist, the Sword-master. A Tale of Court and Camp” (Saturday Journal n484, 9 July 1879) and then in two sequels in Beadle’s New York Dime Library, “The Czar’s Spy” (n143, 20 July 1881) and “El Rubio Bravo” (n150, 7 September 1881). I explain a little about Monstery in the Demon Duelist entry.
Olaf Svenson is a wandering Danish swordmaster, fencing teacher, and hiresword who lives the life of a fantasy novel hero, even though his stories are set in the 19th century. At different times of his life he is the swordmaster to the Czar, where he fights a Nihilist conspiracy; the instructor-at-arms to the King of Spain, the fencing instructor to the leader of Cuba, and a mercenary in Honduras, hired to kill off the Seven Deadly Brothers of Tabasco, a widely feared family of bandits and “espadachins.” He is a demon swordsman whose nicknames are “Iron Wrist,” because of his strength, and “El Rubio Bravo,” the “brave blond,” because of his white hair. (“El Rubio Bravo” was also Monstery’s nickname). His skill at arms extends beyond the blade to guns, and he’s deadly even with the rifle and bayonet, but he’s pure hell with the sword. Even in his old age he remains in good shape, slim and muscular. His great love is Carmelita Ximenes, the daughter of a rich Spanish merchant, but she was a coquette who toyed with him and ended up marrying a dishonorable man, leaving him more than a little cynical (though never unchivalrous) about women. He’s not bloodthirsty, and usually doesn’t kill men in duels, merely wounding them, but when pressed, as he was against the Seven Deadly Brothers, he will kill. (Each brother had a different fighting style, which was an interesting (though not difficult) challenge for Svenson). He ends his days in San Francisco, teaching the sword.
The Olaf Svenson books are better written than most dime novels, being colorful and adventurous, but they lack the gripping intensity Monstery’s “The Demon Duelist.” Unfortunately, those Svenson stories set in Latin America allow Monstery to indulge his racism, write about “greasers,” and describe the higher qualities of those with “pure blood” (i.e., Castilians, not Mexicans).
winford, Joceline. Joceline Swinford was created by “Mrs. Alfred Baldwin” and appeared in “The Empty Picture Frame” (The Shadow on the Blind, 1895). Louisa Baldwin (1845-1925) was a British poet, author, and anthologist who is remembered today only for her supernatural stories. “The Empty Picture Frame” is a moderately interesting ghost story most notable for its Miss Havisham-meets-the-supernatural concept.
Katherine Swinford is the mistress of Eastwick Court, a large estate. She is a spinster; the one man who loved her for herself and not her property “died long ago, and his fever-worn body lay buried in the hot sand of a tropic shore, and Katherine Swinford was still and would always remain Katherine Swinford.” This particular twilight is making her melancholy, and she wonders why she never heard back from her cousin, Sir Piers Hammersley (no relation to Marcus Hammersley, I’m sure); Katherine invited Sir Piers to Eastwick Court, along with his daughter Joceline. Joceline shares the name of Katherine’s ancestor, Joceline Swinford, whose lover had died fighting for the king, and who herself died of a broken heart following his loss. But Sir Piers never wrote back, which strikes Katherine as unusual and almost rude. Suddenly Katherine hears the sound of carriage wheels on the gravel driveway, and soon enough Katherine’s butler is announcing the entrance of “Miss Hammersley.” Miss Hammersley is dressed in old-fashioned clothes and bears an extraordinary resemblance to the portrait of Joceline Swinford. Miss Hammersley is also distant, vague, and dreamy in manner, outdated in her vocabulary, always cold, and served by a maid whose fashion is similarly “in entire disregard of existing fashion.”
Katherine brings Miss Hammersley to the portrait of Joceline Swinford, but discovers that the portrait has vanished. This greatly upsets Katherine, but Miss Hammersley assures her that the portrait will soon be restored to her. Several days pass, and Miss Hammersley shows herself to be oddly ill-informed about modern manners but very knowledgeable about by-gone days. She even mentions having gone to London while the King was confined, something that happened a century and more gone by. Then one day one of Katherine’s servants mentions that he saw Miss Hammersley and her servant walking through the house late at night and going through the unused parts of the mansion. That night Katherine sees them doing the same and follows them. Katherine hears them talking about the spot where Joceline Swinford’s lover died and saying “It was here that he died! On this spot my love died!” Miss Hammersley’s maid asks her, “Shall you not rest, Mistress, since you have seen that which you prayed to see once more?” and Miss Hammersley responds, “Yes, I shall rest. I shall sleep till we all wake together.” The following day passes awkwardly, with Katherine quite convinced of Miss Hammersley’s madness, and that night Miss Hammersley leaves abruptly. The carriage Miss Hammersley and her servant leave in disappears abruptly, and when looked for the portrait of Joceline Swinford is restored. From that point forward Katherine’s health pines away, and she dies within a year, a changed woman.
“The Empty Picture Frame” is not particularly remarkable. The true identity of “Miss Hammersley” is telegraphed from her first appearance, and it’s equally clear that she means no harm. So the reader is left to be chilled by the very idea of a ghost, which for those past the age of 13 is an unlikely prospect. “The Empty Picture Frame” has good characterization in the person of the imperious spinster Katherine Swinford, and Baldwin tells the story in a very readable fashion, but there is otherwise little to recommend the story. The Shadow on the Blind has had a mixed reception from critics; I side with those who would describe it as quite ordinary Victorian ghost stories.
Joceline Swinford pined away for her lover, who had died on Joceline’s estate. In life she was cheerful and bright before her lover’s death, and inconsolable afterward. She “had none of the ardour and impetuosity of youth, she was silent and reticent. She was ignorant of everyday matters that a child would know, and yet surprised her by considerable out of the way knowledge, and acquaintance with by-gone times, though she knew nothing of contemporary history. Her phraseology was often amusingly antiquated.”
yfret, Lord. Lord Syfret, one of the earliest of the occult detectives, appeared in a series of stories called "Some Experiences of Lord Syfret" which appeared in The Ludgate Magazine in the mid-1890s. He was created by Arabella Kenealy (1862-1938), a noted early feminist and author of such land-breaking works as Feminism and Sex-Extinction. Lord Syfret, as I said, was one of the earliest of the occult detectives, and in fact fought a vampire a year before Dracula. Syfret is an English Lord, as you might guess, and is well-acquainted with many levels of society; he can gain invitation to most any house or party. He's also intelligent, well-educated, cynical, and cunning, capable of unblinkingly telling falsehoods and encouraging others to do the same if it will serve his ends. Unlike future occult detectives, however, he is armed with neither spells, psychic abilities, or arcane and occult weapons. He has only his native intelligence and those weapons that anyone on Earth-Prime would have. (It's a good thing that his opponents are not that much more powerful than ordinary humans).
ylvie & Bruno. Sylvie & Bruno were created by Lewis Carroll and appeared in Sylvie and Bruno (1889) and Sylvie and Bruno Concluded (1893). Carroll, a.k.a. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-1898), should be known to you for Alice in Wonderland. (Which, to answer a Frequently Asked Question, I will, yes, be including here eventually–five books from now, as a matter of fact).
Sylvie and Bruno and Sylvie and Bruno Concluded are about two sets of characters, one Faerie and one human. Sylvie and Bruno are Faerie, and the two novels tell the story of their adventures in the Faerie realm of Outland. Their father, the Warden of Outland, first faces a revolution of the people of Outland and then later the plots of his evil brother, the Sub-Warden. Eventually he is asked to be the ruler of Elfland, and so he leaves the Palace of Outland in the hands of his brother, who takes control in the Warden’s absence. The Warden returns, gathers up Sylvie and Bruno, and declares that he will return to Elfland with them.
The human characters include the nameless narrator (implicitly Lewis Carroll), Lady Muriel Orme, and the narrator’s friend Arthur Forester. The narrator befriends Lady Muriel on a train ride, and they have a nice conversation before parting. The narrator then meets up with Arthur and the two meet Lady Muriel, who is the daughter of their host. Arthur falls in love with Muriel, and she is attracted to him, but there are various difficulties to be overcome before they can be married. In Sylvie and Bruno Concluded the two are separated when Arthur goes to a disease-stricken village, and Arthur is believed dead before returning to Muriel.
Sylvie and Bruno meanwhile have been wandering around the countryside, independent of adult supervision. At first they are unaware of the narrator’s presence but eventually they begin interacting with him. And then they begin interacting with Lady Muriel and Arthur.
Carroll himself called Sylvie and Bruno "a huge unwieldy mass of litterature (sic),” and reading it now it is hard to believe that it was ever intended to be read by or to children. The adult section of the novel has discussions of topics like Shakespeare’s treatment of ghosts and railway literature, and it’s hard to imagine such things holding a child’s attention. Nor are the philosophy, Christian propaganda, or love story likely to be interesting to children. On the other hand, the Sylvie and Bruno portion of the novel is overtly fantastic and likely quite entertaining to kids.
The adult portion of the novel is much less interesting than Sylvie and Bruno’s story. While the content of the story is standard Faerie fantasy, it is Carroll’s handling of the material which is of particular note. The novel has the word play and use of paradoxes familiar to readers from Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. And it has a discussion of the effect of gravity on objects in space which leads to the narrator commenting about a cord, attached to the Earth and fastened to a house in space, and how gravity would increase on the house when the cord was pulled on from Earth. This is interestingly near to Konstantin Tsiolkovsky’s idea of a space elevator.
But it is the central conceit of the premise, and how Carroll handles it, which is most interesting. The Sylvie and Bruno portion of the story begins as something clearly separate from the narrator/Muriel/Arthur plot. But Carroll’s transitions between the two are jarringly abrupt, and it is not clear for many pages that the narrator is dreaming about Sylvie and Bruno. For a little while, at the beginning of the novel, Sylvie and Bruno do not notice the narrator, so it is unclear whether the narrator is a character or simply a third-person omniscient narrator. The novel starts in media res so that the reader has no context for events, and the shifts between the real world and Outland are quite sudden. Carroll eventually makes it clear to the reader that the narrator is dreaming about Outland, but then Sylvie and Bruno begin appearing in the narrator’s reality, first in situations in which only he can see them, and then eventually when Muriel and Arthur can meet them. Moreover, there are moments, early in the novel, when the narrator acknowledges his own existence as a fictional character. The ambiguity and instability in Sylvie and Bruno make for a sometimes unnerving and unusually interesting reading experience.
Sylvie is a pretty little girl of around nine years of age with curly brown locks and a loving disposition. She is the elder brother of Bruno, a stereotype of the small boy in 19th century nursery fiction--"spoilt, a little greedy, rebellious but loving in his better moments;" "think of any pretty little boy you know, with rosy cheeks, large dark eyes, and tangled brown hair, and then fancy him small enough to go comfortably into a coffee-cup, and you'll have a fair idea of (Bruno)." They lack parents and wander at will through the grounds of Lady Muriel's mansion, sometimes appearing to comfort her. They are kind, well-meaning, and childlike.
zémioth, Count. Count Szémioth was created by Prosper Mérimée and appeared in “Lokis” (Revue des Deux Mondes, 15 September 1869). Mérimée (1803-1870) was the creator of the Venus of Ille, and I have information on him there. “Lokis” is one of Mérimée’s better-known (and more controversial) horror stories. Professor Wittembach, as a young man, went on a scholarly expedition to Lithuania, trying to find information and records on Low Lithuanian. He gets a letter of introduction to Count Michael Szémioth, who is said to own a copy of a fabulously rare manuscript. Wittembach goes to the Count’s castle, but when he first arrives there the Count is suffering from a migraine. Wittembach, while changing into his dinner suit, sees an old, white-haired woman with “wide open and vacant” eyes being forcibly carried into the castle by the Count’s servants. At dinner the Professor strikes up a conversation with the Count’s doctor, who talks about, among other things, how the Count’s mother, the elderly woman, has been insane for years; two or three days after marrying the Count’s father they were out hunting when she was separated from the hunting party and was attacked by a bear. When the others found her she was being dragged away by the bear, and after they killed the bear they found that, in addition to her physical wounds, she was insane. Not long after that they discovered that she was pregnant. After the child, the Count, was born, she shrieked, “Kill him! Kill the beast!” and tried to kill the baby. Since then she’s been loony. The Count had also, not too long ago, been attacked by a she-bear, but the bear had only given him a lick and left him alone. The next day the Count and the Professor meet and hit it off. The two go hunting together and meet an old peasant woman who, in response to a question about a community of animals “that knows nothing of the tyranny of mankind,” tells the Count that he should go be their king. From their Wittembach and the Count go to visit Julia, the woman the Count is seeing; Julia is a coquette, but a charming one, and Wittembach and the Count have a fine time visiting her. That night the Count talks in his sleep, and when Wittembach tells the Count’s doctor that the Count is unwell the doctor talks about the Count’s lack of interest in women. Wittembach moves on and visits the rest of Lithuania and then, some months later, receives an invitation to the Count’s wedding. During the ceremony the Count’s mother appears and shrieks, “The bear! The bear! Fetch your guns! He’s making off with a woman! Kill him! Shoot, shoot!” The next morning the bride does not appear, and when they go looking for her they find her “stretched out dead on her bed, her face hideously lacerated, her throat torn open, and drenched in blood.” The Count is gone and is never seen again. Wittembach finished relating the story by saying that “lokis” is the Lithuanian word for “bear.”
“Lokis” is generally not seen as Mérimée’s best story; that would be “Venus of Ille” or, of course, Carmen. But “Lokis” has its advocates. I didn’t find “Lokis” frightening or moving; Mérimée’s work doesn’t do that to me. But, as with “Venus of Ille,” I found “Lokis” entertaining. Mérimée brings in a great deal of local color and Lithuanian folklore, and the story feels like an extended section out of one man’s life, rather than a story. There is some extraneous material–at least, extraneous story of Count Szémioth–but this only adds to the feel of the story as a period of Wittembach’s life. “Lokis” reads like a folktale, but with more characterization and a more modern approach to the story idea. Perhaps the more insightful readers will guess the secret of Count Szémioth before the ending of the story, but I didn’t, and so it came as a pleasant surprise.
I mentioned that “Lokis” is controversial. At least one critic has called it extremely misogynistic. While I am (as should be clear if you’ve read this far in the site) fairly liberal (although I prefer the term “progressive”), and so might be expected to sympathize with that position, in this case I don’t. The two female characters in “Lokis,” the Count’s mother and Julia, are both victims, but they are not deserving victims. Both were raped and killed by monsters, in the first case by a bear and in the second case by a man/bear. But they were not bad characters or portrayed by Mérimée as deserving what they got. If simply being female and victimized in a horror story makes the story misogynist, then there are a huge number of misogynist horror stories.
Count Szémioth is rather affable. He’s generous to the peasants on his lands as well as to Professor Wittembach. He likes hunting, and he’s good at it, and does not lack for personal courage. But he isn’t really interested in women, and horses and dogs hate him, and, well, there’s something not quite right about him. Perhaps it’s his family background, or perhaps it is his taste for playing pranks, or perhaps it’s his migraines and the fact that his eyes are set much too close together. But that boy ain’t right, as his bride finds out too late.
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