Saturday, 28 May 2011

Richard Rosny

Continuing the Maxwell Gray project, I just finished her 1903 novel Richard Rosny, which is essentially a family saga focusing on the unhappy marriage of the protagonist, who is forced to give up his promising naval career and go into business to support his extended family.

The book begins with Richard at nine, an only child brought up by his mother Edith in the village of Wimbury. He's initially upset at her remarriage to the apparently OK Horace Belton, but gets over this when they're away on honeymoon; they move to a larger house called The Pines, Richard's favourite half-brother Gerald is born, and Richard grows up without much incident and joins the Navy. Horace, however, despite helping produce Richard's four other half-siblings, goes downhill over the next decade, graduating from just being careless with money via being brought home dead drunk to acquiring an opium habit.

At home on leave at 21, Richard gets a man-to-man talk with Godfrey Belton of the banking firm Belton (Horace's uncle), who warns him the Horace is a financial train wreck.  Richard's own uncle, Adrian Rosny, doesn't disagree. Thus warned, Richard returns to sea. On his return, he gets engaged to Kathleen (Kitty) Musgrave, the cousin of his navy friend Ronald Musgrave. His mum isn't pleased, but ultimately everyone accepts the match. Horace, however, is getting worse. He's started being violent, and spends Christmas sipping laudanum in his den as the rest of the Beltons enjoy a family gathering around the tree. Everyone starts wishing he would just FOAD, especially when Gerald reveals that he has been hitting Edith.

Various younger members of the Belton and Rosny families enjoy a fancy-dress ball, but Richard arrives late in a sulk, saying that he fell off his bike. The day after, he cycles to The Pines, to be greeted by the news that Horace has been found dead in the nearby gravel pit. The coroner says Accidental Death, and the Rosnys go into collective guilt. Godfrey Belton brings Richard worse news; Horace wasn't merely inept with money, but criminal. Due to his embezzlement, Belton, Laking & Co.; and the Rosny family are in major debt. But Godfrey has spotted  Richard's financial aptitude, and argues that it's in everyone's best interests that Richard should leave the Navy and join the firm. Richard meets Kitty on the downs. They've discussed something heavy we're not party to (though this being a MG novel, it's totally predictable that he must have killed his stepfather) and as a result Kitty breaks off their engagement.

Some years later, via a trio of rustic characters, we find that Richard took the offer he couldn't refuse, and has made a success of running Belton, Laking etc. and supporting his family. He's big in ship's biscuits and lifesaving equipment, and has even launched a chain of semi-temperance gastropubs. Now a care-worn 33, he visits The Pines and announces that he is engaged to Evelyn Arbury, the daughter of an old shipmate he met on the river at Richmond.

Richard and Evelyn are married at Wimbury, and they move into his childhood home there. From the start, Richard behaves like a total stiff, and spends all hours working, leaving Evelyn depressed and lonely. Things get worse when she finds Richard hasn't told her the new vicar's wife is his ex, Kitty, and he admits he married Evelyn on the rebound. Not unnaturally, when the charismatic Ronald Musgrave joins the local social set, Evelyn falls for him. Richard is too busy to notice anything going on - he's doing stuff like working and being a hero rescuing people from a shipwreck - but local gossip is thoroughly aware of several meetings between Evelyn and Ronald.

Enter Nancy Rosny, a young academic and relative, who's staying in the area with her professor sort-of-boyfriend Basil. She happens to overhear Ronald and Evelyn making plans to elope. Meanwhile, Richard's old rustic pal Gatrell goes to the mainland branch of Belton, Laking & Co. in "Shackleton" (ie Southampton) and tells Richard about the risk to his marriage. Richard gets on the steamer hotfoot.

Nancy meanwhile has turned sleuth, and shadows Evelyn en route to her assignation, bribing the fly driver so that Nancy gets to the steamer terminus first. There she confronts Musgrave with news of the death of another woman he'd promised marriage to, appealing to his better nature to let Evelyn go. While this is happening, Richard has arrived at the same terminus (he doesn't see them in the fog) and sets off to cycle the 15 miles to Wimbury, where he's devastated to find Evelyn gone. After getting Musgrave off the scene, Nancy intercepts Evelyn, who has been fuming en route as the fly driver removed fictitious stones from his horse's hoof, and persuades her not to leave. The next morning, the two women arrive back at Wimbury with the fiction that they went to a lecture and had to stay over. However, no-one's fooled, and Richard and Evelyn have to do some hard talking, both admitting their grave errors in not being open with their feelings.

At this inconvenient point, Richard gets a note from Gerald, saying "I have found the man". Gerald, in between army postings overseas, has been on a long-standing project to prove Horace's death to be suspicious. He's about to sic the police on an innocent bookmaker, so Richard is finally forced to admit that he did it. (He'd hit him, and Horace being a severely ill druggie, died).  It seems everyone except Gerald already knows. Richard argues that he's atoned many times: losing Kitty, suffering years of guilt, and compensating with bigtime philanthropy. Gerald nevertheless wants to settle it the legal way.

After some months, Richard returns home after six months doing hard labour for manslaughter, and is reunited with Evelyn. They get news that Gerald, estranged from Richard since it all came out, has been killed in the Boer War, but not before sending a letter forgiving him.

Richard Rosny has the whole toolkit of Maxwell Gray motifs: army/navy characters, a family dispute, a drunken head of the family, long-concealed crime, a Mary Sue in the form of the feminist academic Nancy, and a quick visit to the author's then home in Richmond. Nevertheless, I rather enjoyed it. The psychology of the main characters is very well-drawn, especially Richard's gormless state of denial about his poor marriage, and the syndrome of wanting someone dead then feeling guilty when it happens. There's a certain amount of pathetic fallacy - the big confrontation when Ronald asks Evelyn to leave Richard takes place in a storm - but MG has reduced her early habit of excessive purple landscape description.

While the location is less explicit than, say, The Silence of Dean Maitland, this is an Isle of Wight novel. "St Ann's", with its steep streets down to the esplanade and long pier with trams to the steamer terminus, is clearly Ryde.  The description of "Sandycombe" fits Sandown. There's a shipwreck at "Caster Cove" (undoubtedly Puckaster Cove). There's a good description of the Undercliff at what's evidently St Catherine's Point, and general distances and details (e.g. that there's a railway station, and it's about 15 road miles from Ryde) are moderately consistent with "Wimbury" being Whitwell.

- Ray

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Tangrams: Hanzi Smatter?

Language Log just covered a 1700s-1800s example of "Hanzi Smatter", a generic term for use of faux-Chinese script in Western culture (the term derives from the weblog of that name).

That reminded of a probable example from my copy of Henry Ernest Dudeney's 1917 Amusements in Mathematics, which happens to be online both on Project Gutenberg and Google Books.

Discussing a correspondent's copy of an old Tangram book, Dudeney writes:

I reproduce the Chinese inscription [above, figure labelled 8] for this reason. The owner of the book informs me that he has submitted it to a number of Chinamen in the United States and offered as much as a dollar for a translation. But they all steadfastly refused to read the words, offering the lame excuse that the inscription is Japanese. Natives of Japan, however, insist that it is Chinese. Is there something occult and esoteric about Tangrams, that it is so difficult to lift the veil? Perhaps this page will come under the eye of some reader acquainted with the Chinese language, who will supply the required translation, which may, or may not, throw a little light on this curious question.

Addendum: I should have Googled more assiduously; Donald C Read's 1965 Tangrams: 330 Puzzles has an explanation. Read actually had a copy of the book in question, and found that the mysterious logo isn't on the cover, but on the second-to-last page.

Apparently it's just the caption to the illustration, saying roughly "Two men facing each other drinking. This shows the versatility of the seven-piece puzzle".

The Dudeney version appears to have undergone considerable degradation in copying; perhaps this explains the failure of Dudeney's contacts to read it.

- Ray

Monday, 23 May 2011

Best ever squirrel photo ...

... or at least the best I've ever managed to take. Clare and I regularly take a detour from shopping in Exmouth to feed the squirrels on Bath Road, the wooded parkland at the foot of the cliffs under the Beacon (see Google Maps). No special camera - just my inexpensive GE compact - but I managed to distract the squirrel with enough peanuts to get it in macro range.

I never get tired of Bath Road, with its restful sheltered parallel footpaths; it's one of the pleasanter parts of Exmouth seafront. William John Wesley Webb's 1872 Memorials of Exmouth mentions that the plantations and public walks on and under the Beacon are down to Exmouth's major benefactors, Lord and Lady Rolle.

The road name is a historical fossil from the late 1800s, when it led to a seafront bath-house owned and run by Thomas Burridge and Thomas Burridge Jnr. (according to the Rootsweb listings, the father was a master builder, the son a builder and the manager of a water company). Bradshaw's Shilling Handbook says the establishment provided both hot and cold baths. The building is now a pub, The Bath House (formerly called the Deer Leap). I can't immediately find much about its history, beyond it having been extensively developed; according to the pub-explorer entry:

One of the only original features remaining are two pillars behind the bar which formed the original doorway of the first building. Also, unseen underneath the Ladies and Gents toilets, are parts of the flooring and tiles from the baths.

- Ray

Friday, 20 May 2011

Arden v. Columbia Pictures

Last year - see Déjà view - I mentioned the contentious legal history surrounding Groundhog Day. Further to that, via the Paralegal Programs Blog, I've just been reading Arden v. Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc., 908 F. Supp. 1248 - Dist. Court, SD New York 1995, the summary of the case judgement arising when author Leon Arden brought a copyright infringement suit over the alleged plagiarism of his novel One Fine Day.

It's quite enlightening in explaining how a work may have close points of similarity without that constituting proof of copyright infringement. The details are complicated, but a key concept is that of Scenes a faire ...

- those elements of a work "that necessarily result from the choice of a setting or situation,"

For instance, if I set a story involving a man stranded on a desert island, scenes a faire might include his trying to catch fish, trying to break open a coconut, growing a long beard, trying to signal a passing ship, and building a raft. As they're highly likely developments from the scenario, I wouldn't be infringing the copyright of, say, Castaway. I suspected this would be how it worked, and I'm sure much the same applies if the core scenario is a person living the same day over and over: it's fairly predictable that any competent writer would have the protagonist trying to capitalise on the situation of having no consequences beyond the day (e.g. commit a crime, try to seduce someone, etc).

Given the existence of scenes a faire, the issue of plagiarism-or-not hinges on the differences between two works rather than the similarities, and the differences were what swung the decision in the Arden v. Columbia case.

- Ray

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Letts: a relic

Shakespeare Memorial Fountain: Oct 29, 2011
I find the Blackgang Undercliff - see previously - fascinating for its post-apocalyptic flavour. What would Macaulay's New Zealander, wandering into an overgrown relic of civilisation amid geological desolation, make of an enigmatic and eroded plaque saying "-TAR AND THE RO-"?

As described at Chine Cats' page on Flickr, this is the now-dry Shakespeare Fountain. We know from records and old postcards that the inscription is actually from Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act 2, Scene 4: "The water nectar, and the rocks pure gold".

Behind it was a folly in the form of a Doric temple - see the British Listed Buildings entry Shakespeare Memorial in Grounds of South View, Chale - and both were built in the grounds of South View House, the residence of Thomas Letts, to commemorate the tercentenary of the birth of Shakespeare. The memorial is regularly mentioned in guidebooks well into the 20th century; it wasn't destroyed by landslip, but dismantled at some point post-1950. There are various rumours about where the bits went; Headley & Meulenkamp's 1999 Follies, Grottoes & Garden Buildings tells
Reports filtered through about destruction by 'some lads on scooters' and the subsequent removal of the remains to Godshill. Others said it was still there in the undergrowth but collapsed. The last report, however, was that it was, indeed, continually under attack by vandals, but the owner of the temple eventually took it down himself and removed it to a garden in Ryde, although the base is still in its place.
Thomas Letts was one of a number of Victorian enterpreneurs who acquired houses in the southern Isle of Wight's Undercliff (I've already mentioned Walter Spindler, of Old Park, and John Morgan Richards, of Steephill Castle). The others, however, lived on the mostly stable St Lawrence Undercliff. I've no idea if Letts was fully aware of the geological setup at Blackgang; there had been signs of instability with a collapse in 1799 that destroyed a farm called Pitlands, and further landslides in 1810 and 1818. His home too - Southview House - is long gone, but its adjacent coach house remained as the only significant intact building left standing in the slip zone until Christmas 2011, when it was destroyed by fire.

Letts was a stationer, part of the dynasty behind the still-extant Letts Diaries - a product so ubiquitous that we don't tend to think that at some point they were invented.  I can't really improve on the Wikipedia biography:
Thomas Letts (1803 – 1873) was an English stationer and printer who popularised the diary. He was born at Stockwell, London, the son of John Letts, a bookbinder and printer of the Royal Exchange. In 1816 his father published, ‘Letts's diary or bills owed book and almanack’ as the first commercially-produced diary, which Thomas developed into of dozens of differently-printed and bound, annual publications.

Thomas took over the family-owned company in 1835, printing a range of diaries that stretched from small pocket diaries to commercial foolscap folio one-day-per-page editions. Additionally, his factories at North Road, New Cross printed interest tables, specialist clerical and medical diaries, calendars, parliamentary registers, ledgers, and logbooks.

Letts' publications became ubiquitous, being used by many of the well-known Victorian writers and diarists who were well-acquainted with the product range. For example, writing in the Cornhill Magazine, William Makepeace Thackeray noted he preferred a Letts No. 12 diary.

Thomas was joined in the family business by his son, Charles, and together they raised capital for expansion into a limited company in 1870, trading as 'Letts, Son & Co.' However Thomas died soon afterwards, being buried in West Norwood Cemetery in a Grade II listed monument.

The public company lost direction and went into liquidation in 1885. Charles reformed the company privately as Charles Letts & Co., trading profitably for the next century. In 2001, Letts acquired the Filofax Group.
Thackeray's testimonial is impressive ...
Mine is one of your No. 12 diaries, three shillings cloth boards; silk limp, gilt edges, three-and-six; French morocco, tuck ditto, four-and-six. It has two pages, ruled with faint lines for memoranda, for every week, and a ruled account at the end, for the twelve months from January to December, where you may set down your incomings and your expenses.
- William Makepeace Thackeray, On Letts's Diary, Cornhill Magazine, 1862

... and gives a clue to the groundbreaking nature of Letts's products. Pre-computing, there was a vast demand for specialist data-keeping stationery, not just for record-keeping but appropriately structured for analysis of that data. Fortune's Epitome of the stocks & public funds (E F Thomas Fortune, 1851) has a full catalogue (page 322 onward), and it's amazing list of ultra-specialised products, with diaries in hundreds of layout formats, customised for trades such as clergymen and physicians, and for tasks from winecellar management to records of sermons.

Addendum: At the end of October 2011, I visited the Fountain - see On the lost road.

- Ray

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

IOW (3): Return to Blackgang

View Larger Map

... and so our walk ended at Blackgang. Near the southern tip of the Isle of Wight, the geology becomes more complicated, with higher cliffs and a succession of Upper Greensand rocks overlying soft clay.

Walking from Whale Chine toward Blackgang

The whole succession is easily eroded by streams, and two centuries ago Blackgang was the location of a "steep gaunt ravine", Blackgang Chine, which features in many contemporary prints. For instance, there's this image in George Brannon's 1840s Brannon's Picture of the Isle of Wight (The Expeditious Traveller's Index to Its Prominent Beauties & Objects of Interest. Compiled Especially with Reference to Those Numerous Visitors Who Can Spare but Two or Three Days to Make the Tour of the Island), and the excellent "Black Gang Chine, Isle of Wight" drawn and engraved by Charles Cousen, published in The History of Hampshire, 1869.

The Victorian entrepreneur Alexander Dabell saw the opportunity in 1842 and opened what was probably the first British theme park, charging an entrance fee to see the chine and the skeleton of a beached whale. The park still exists - see its website - with a continued succession of ownership by Dabell's descendants, and its entrance has long been guarded by a giant smuggler (below), alluding to the possibly exaggerated connection of the the chine with smuggling. Its flavour I recall from childhood was quaint and rather dry - there was a whale skeleton that formed the ceiling of the curio room, peepshow machines showing innocuous things such as the inside of an ants' nest, a wishing chair, a "electric shock chair" (I never had the nerve to try it, so have no idea if it genuinely shocked you or simulated it with vibration), and, chiefly, gardens and scenic paths. But over the latter part of the 20th century it has focused more on appeal to children with themed rides and entertainments. YouTube has some nice footage of the park approximately in the era I remember: 1960, 1965 and 1966

Entrance to Blackgang Chine theme park

However, the geology - hard rock over soft clay - also means that Blackgang is an active landslip zone. Over two centuries, and particularly the 20th, the chine has eroded away entirely, as has a large portion of the adjacent land belonging to the park (see the Google Earth aerial view). The owners, understandably, have added a string to their bow with an inland park, Robin Hill, but have also incorporated the process of coastal destruction into their theme with a more adult-focused presentation, Blackgang: The Disappearing Village.  We didn't have time to go in, but made do with a restful moment feeding bread to the crows on the tearoom lawn.

One place I did want to explore was the east side of Blackgang, where a lane leads down from the theme park entrance. Originally this was a low-level route east, connecting with the "Sandrock Road" to Niton, but it was broken by a landslip in 1928. However, for many years after, the Blackgang end was largely intact, a track across a small landslip giving access to a section of road running through woods at the foot of Gore Cliff for half a mile or so. I just about remember this from childhood. But much of this section was obliterated in a major slip in 1978; there's a good map on page 191 of Slope stability engineering: developments and applications (1991), and the paper starting at page 189 - The recent history and geotechnics of landslides at Gore Cliff, Isle of Wight - is an interesting overall account.

The end of the road

It's very different now. The lane descends just a few hundred yards before narrowing to a path, still on overgrown tarmac, then the tarmac becomes cracked, and shortly you reach the cliff edge, with the last piece of road still showing its double yellow "no parking" lines. There is a rough footpath leading on over the slipped rock into a typical jumbled and overgrown undercliff landslip; unfortunately we didn't have time to explore further. I've seen undercliff areas before, but I found it quite chilling to see such literal erasure of a whole landscape I remember.

Gore Cliff and the Blackgang Undercliff

An intriguing aspect is that if you look at Google Maps (here) you can see that within the disrupted landscape of the Blackgang Undercliff, beyond the 1978 slip, there's an isolated section of woodland with the road intact, and signs of buildings and caravans. Time apart, we weren't kitted out to cross the landslip and investigate, but a number of explorers have done so, and documented it on YouTube (it reminds me of Pripyat). There are a number of unusual points, particularly the Shakespeare Fountain, which was in the grounds of Southview House - the nearby temple is gone; and the remains of a nudist holiday camp, The South View Sun Club, with quaint murals. See Blackgang Chine abandoned village & landslip exploration; Blackgang Chine,The Lost Village, I.O.W; and Walking over the lost Blackgang Road, Niton Undercliff, IoW, July 2006 (below).

Note: this post is an update to The disappearing Chine, August 2008.

Addendum: I've mentioned Mimi Khalvati's poem The Chine a couple of times. Sorry to mention it again, but every time I read it I find more layers; it encapsulates so powerfully the "double exposure" experience of returning to a place changed by time, and all the more so for being the same kind of place that's in my own early memories. It's online in full here (scroll down - it's below the French translation) at Poezibao, Florence Trocmé's online poetry journal.

Addendum 2: At the end of October 2011, I revisited the Blackgang again, and did the walk into the Undercliff - see On the lost road.

- Ray

Monday, 16 May 2011

IOW (2): Llamas and chines

Looking across the "Back of the Wight" from Pyle toward Tennyson Down
Despite the relative smallness of the Isle of Wight, the south-western coast - the "Back of the Wight" - retains quite a degree of isolation. The coastal A3055 (aka Military Road) has no regular bus service, and there are no shoreline villages because the sandstone plateau between the chalk downs and the sea ends abruptly at a crumbly 150-foot cliff. From the shape of trees and bushes you can see how windswept it can be - the coast has a long history of shipwrecks - but last Friday was clear and sunny with a light onshore breeze, and Clare and I managed to get sunburnt as we rambled from Chale Green down the lanes via the hamlet of Pyle to the coast, then along the coast path to Chale and Blackgang (see Google Maps).

Where the lane from Pyle meets the Military Road, we were pleased to make the acquaintance of Bruce (above) and his colleagues Manuel, Ebenezar, Kipper and Spotty, who all work for Wight Llama Treks. From there, it was a short walk to the coastal path.  Due to a nicety of geology, coastal erosion rates and stream flow, this section of cliff is cut by a succession of chines, sharply-incised miniature ravines.

New Chine (crossed-eye stereopair)
click to enlarge

Most of them, such as the above New Chine, are quite small, but Whale Chine is the most spectacular: a deep vertical slice that cuts almost to sea level down through the clifftop farmland.

View Larger Map

I've been here once before, around 40 years ago, on a geological tour with a schoolfriend. I remember that visit as being on an overcast drizzly day with seaspray blowing up the chine, and the wooden steps down to the beach dangerously slippery. Now, it's much greener and brighter than I remember, but the steps are in disrepair (temporarily, according to the notice at the top) and you can't get down at all. Mimi Khalvati's poem The Chine - quoted previously - although written about Shanklin Chine, seems very fitting:

Every childhood has its chine, upper world
and lower. Time itself seems vertical
and its name too implies both bank and stream.
To be back on the island is to walk
in both worlds at the same time, looking down
on talus, horsehair fern notched through the Ice Age,
Stone Age, Bronze Age and still here at our heels;
Every path brings us back to the beginning.
Shanklin Chine is closed for the winter, both ends
barred with notices. But the mind is not.
Or memory. And time is spinning backwards
with the mainland out of sight and the great plain
where herds roamed the floor of the English Channel
and were drowned by it flush again with valleys.

- from The Chine, Mimi Khalvati

- Ray

IOW (1): Oddfellows

Clare and I just spent a few days in the Isle of Wight to go to my father's 80th birthday party, and as usual, multi-tasked: we visited relatives in Newport and Carisbrooke, we got in some walking, and I pursued a few Maxwell Gray leads. In aid of the latter, while passing through St Thomas's Square (Newport's central square around St Thomas's Church, a.k.a. Newport Minster) on impulse I dropped into Unity Hall, the Vecta Lodge of the Newport branch of the Oddfellows Friendly Society.

I was specifically interested in the possibility that they might have group photos of members, as I've been looking for a photo of Frank Bampfylde Tuttiett (MG's father, who was a long-standing member of the Oddfellows, being lodge surgeon for the Earl Yarborough Lodge (the old name of the Vecta Lodge - I assume the name refers to Charles Anderson Pelham, Earl Yarborough, 1780 - 1846, who is commemorated by an obelisk on Culver Down).  Dr Tuttiett is mentioned several times in the Oddfellows magazine in the late 19th century, mostly for his attendance of anniversary dinners for the Earl Yarborough Lodge, including one in April 1887 when he was toasted for having filled the office of surgeon for 43 years to the satisfaction of all.

The Vecta Lodge did indeed have group photos, but unfortunately none for the 1800s. However, the visit wasn't wasted, as Prue Osborne, the Secretary, extremely kindly showed us the meeting rooms. A notable observation was that the Oddfellows seem to have been considerably ahead of their time in having female members and officers at the beginning of the 20th century.

In the 19th century, the Earl of Yarborough Lodge must have seen some highly sumptuous junkets. You can get the flavour from this account of its 32nd Annual Dinner at the Star Hotel, Newport, in the Hampshire Telegraph for March 17, 1866:

The table was most excellently and liberally supplied with the good things of this life, doing the greatest credit to the landlord (Mr M Newman). The table having been cleared, the following toasts were given and received enthusiastically, being occasionally interspersed with good songs (accompanied on the pianoforte by Mr Mew) - "The Queen", "Prince and Princess of Wales, and the rest of the Royal Family", "Army, Navy, Milita and Volunteers", "Board of Directors and the M.U.", "I of W. District", "Early Yarborough Lodge and the Presiding Officers", "The Honorary Members", "The Surgeon, F. B. Tuttiett, Esq.", "The Secretary, Mr. William Sutton," "The Relieving and Visiting Officers", "Kindred Societies", "The Sick Brothers", "Trade of the Island", "The Host and Hostess", "The Press", "The Chair and Vice-Chair".

That's a lot of toasts. But the society had more a serious role than annual booze-ups; in the days before the National Health Service, subscribing to such sub-Masonic membership organisations provided support for members at times of hardship: medical care, sickness and accident insurance, funeral expenses, and so on.

Oddfellows logo and motto:
Amicitia, Amor et Veritas
(Friendship, Love and Truth)
As described in History of the Oddfellows  / Oddfellows over the years and The Rise and Progress of the Manchester Unity of the Independent Order of Oddfellows, 1810-1904, the Oddfellows have a long history, with various schisms; it's also a surprisingly controversial history. In the paranoid years of the late 18th century, when the government saw any kind of labour solidarity as a precursor to revolution, membership was criminalised. Even in the early 19th century, friendly societies were seen as an attack on landowners' and employer's interests, and the Oddfellows had to alter their practices to avoid the same scammy use of a 1797 law against oath-taking organisations that had been invoked against the Tolpuddle Martyrs.  For more background, see Behind closed doors: the power and influence of secret societies (Michael Streeter, New Holland Publishers, 2008).

The Vecta Lodge is a branch of the largest present-day incarnation of the Oddfellows in the UK, the Manchester Unity Order of Odd Fellows, which celebrated its bicentennial in 2010.  In the heyday of the Oddfellows, the late 19th century, there were several lodges on the Isle of Wight including the Earl Yarborough, East Medina (based in Ryde), Northwood (in West Cowes), Hambrough (in Ventnor), and Culver (in Sandown). The Vecta in Newport is the only remaining on the Island.

- Ray

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Behind Barnacle Bill

Via a Yahoo! Answers enquiry, I just dug up some background on the Blue Peter theme (the earliest - 1958 - embedded above). A hornpipe-style piece called Barnacle Bill, it's a very popular fixture of the 'Proms' concerts (it was played 24 times in the decade 2000-201) and I'd always assumed it to be trad - but on reflection most of it is far too chromatic and "English light classical" in style. There is a trad song called Barnacle Bill, a bawdy American drinking song derived from a precursor called Bollocky Bill the Sailor - check out this clean version by Sourdough Slim. But no, the Blue Peter Barnacle Bill turns out to be a fairly modern composition by a Herbert Ashworth-Hope.

While the main motif is original to Ashworth-Hope, the introduction is clearly a quotation of the traditional tune variously known as The Sailor's HornpipeThe College Hornpipe or Jack's the Lad.  Any number of composers have similarly quoted it, such as William Walton in the Hornpipe segment of the 1923 Façade (see for lyrics) and in the extremely catchy Hoagy Carmichael & Orchestra foxtrot version of Barnacle Bill the Sailor.

Ashworth-Hope (maybe 1880 - July 11th 1962) looks to have been an interesting polymath. Collating various music library and newspaper sources finds him to have been a successful solicitor and company chairman with several offices around the north-west of England. For part of his career he worked overseas with interests in tin and rubber; he was also one of the co-founders of the still-extant Gibb & Co. There's a photo of him - here, lower left - in Arnold Wright's Twentieth century impressions of British Malaya.

He ... returned to retire in Somerset in the 1930s to a home large enough to have a music-room that the BBC in the West used for broadcasts of concerts featuring the likes of Campoli and others. For the last years of his life he regularly watched Blue Peter marvelling perhaps that a harmless little hornpipe he had written in the 1930s would become as familiar to the nation as the National Anthem itself.
- Philip Lane,

Ashworth-Hope's home was the now-listed Marston Court in Marston Magna, Somerset. In fact he did anything but retire on his return to England, and he became chairman of Malayan Tin Dredging Limited and Southern Malayan Tin Dredging Limited, companies prominent in the 1930s-1950s. Barnacle Bill was just one piece in his small but solid corpus of light musical compositions: there are 25 on the Boosey & Hawkes list.

- Ray

Monday, 9 May 2011

Comet apocalypse, 1857

As promised in the previous post, I chased up the reference to a comet in Maxwell Gray's 1891 novel In the Heart of the Storm. Chapter 8 begins with a chorus of minor rustic characters watching a spectacle in the evening sky.

The Comet

"Well, there! Darned if this yer ain't the rummest start 1 I ever zee!" cried Abraham Bush, staring at the sky one warm still September evening. " There's a many queer things I've a zeen. Zeen a whale and walked atop of en, terble slippy and squashy 'twas, to be sure."
The spectacle they were gathered together to wonder at and discuss was, as Mrs. Plummer was then observing to her husband, "enough to make the very cat talk." Though the sun had sunk some degrees below the purple horizon the sky was all aglow as if from some vast conflagration, and in the heart of this glow, the warmth of which could almost be felt, like that of the sun, sailed a majestic star, enveloped in and followed by a broad and fiery train.
     All the lined and furrowed faces were turned towards the glow, the general expression was anxious and bewildered, the eyes of one elderly man with down-drawn mouth and harsh features glittered with an unearthly light as he watched the sky.
     "'Tis a proper big vire," interposed the second carter, dubiously, "and 'tis terble warm vor the time o' year."
     "Some says 'tis trouble vor the nation," Abraham interposed.
     "Some says 'tis vamine and pest," added Sarah, anxiously; "some says wars. 'Tis zent vor our zins, I hreckon."
- Maxwell Gray, In the Heart of the Storm

The comet scene in the book has a strong element of pathetic fallacy, portraying via weather and sky the unease preceding Jessie's emotional storm (amid a real one) when she runs away to escape Claude. But it also seems to be a pretty accurate portrayal of the national mood at the time the novel was set, around a year haunted by a scary prediction that a Great Comet would hit the Earth on 13th June 1857, as described in The great comet, now rapidly approaching, will it strike the earth? (pub. James Gilbert, 1857).  The chief mover of this theory was a divine in the National Scottish Church, John Cumming, who preached a forthcoming apocalypse via lectures and books such as his 1855 Signs of the times: or, Present, past, and future. Sources state the particular date to have been drawn out of a hat by a German astronomer (or astrologer), though I've yet to find one saying exactly who.

This "comet fright" took a particular hold in Paris, as satirized in a number of prints of the time (see 19th Century Parisian Dopes Wait for Comet). Not everyone was bothered, however. E Moses and Son, Bradford clothiers, saw a marketing opportunity:

The Comet

There's a great deal of stir, and some little alarm,
Though the comet can possibly do us no harm;
Some people are talking of nations' commotions,
While others will tell us they've quite different notions.
For the comet to change our commercial affairs,
To raise up the stocks or to plump up the shares,
Make money the better or easier to get,
Would be a matter which no one would ever regret;
But some are supposing 'twill burn up the world,
As soon as its monstrous train is unfurled.
We think that the comet will do us no harm,
Though the weather most likely will be very warm,
Then to Messrs. E. MOSES. and SON take a turn,
And a fact such as this you will speedily learn,
That a stock of the neatest and cheapest array
At their Branch Mart in Bradford they ready display.
Should the season be hot in the reign of the comet,
Messrs. M.and SON'S garments will well shield you from it.
- advertisement, The Huddersfield Chronicle and West Yorkshire Advertiser, June 13, 1857

And for Benjamin Disraeli, it wasn't going to get in the way of a trip to the Westcountry.

The world is very much frightened about the Comet, Dr Cumming having declared the last day is certainly at hand ... the destructive agencies are all rife - in the centre of the earth a raging fire, while the misty tail of the comet wd, if it touched us, pour forth an overwhelming deluge — so in 4 and 20 hours we may be shrivelled or drowned. In the meantime, if the catastrophe do not occur, we hope to be at Torquay by the end of the next month."
- Letter, June 7th 1857, Benjamin Disraeli Letters: 1852-1856, Volume 6, University of Toronto Press, 2004.

Punch, similarly, had satires such as The Expected Comet on March 7th 1857 ...

Hey! a Comet's coming, Cumming, Cumming,
Ho! a Comet's coming, expected very soon;
Unless folks are humming, humming, humming,
The Comet will be here on 'the Thirteenth day of June.

... and an illustrated editorial Preface for the 27th June edition in which the comet, bored on being told of world affairs, decided not to show ... which was what exactly had happened. A few telescopic comets were seen, but there was no apocalyptically large one.

However, in 1858 a highly visible Great Comet did make an appearance without mishap; Donati's Comet, one of the brightest and most visible comets of the 19th century, and the first to be photographed. A look at the monograph An account of Donati's comet of 1858, by George Phillips Bond, shows that it reached its maximum brightness in late September 1858, when it could be seen well in the twilight shortly after dusk.

This closely fits the scene in In the Heart of the Storm. The chronology of the book is a little confusing, as the English and Indian segments overlap in time, but a closer reading finds that the comet scene takes place after "news of the final capture of Lucknow by Sir Colin Campbell had been received" (i.e. after March 1858) so Abraham and the others are definitely watching Donati's Comet.

Further reading: see Fire in the Sky: Comets and Meteors, the Decisive Centuries, in British Art and Science (Roberta J. M. Olson, Jay M. Pasachoff, Cambridge University Press, 1999). There's extensive Google preview available.

1. I'd never encountered this archaic expression before, though Google Books finds other examples of "the rummest start". The OED, however, finds "start" in this context to mean "A proceeding or incident that causes surprise", with citations between 1836 and 1905.
- Ray

Friday, 6 May 2011

In the Heart of the Storm

Continuing the Maxwell Gray project, I just finished her 1891 novel In the Heart of the Storm (“A Tale of Modern Chivalry”). I read it out of sequence - this is MG’s third novel - but it took a while to source, as it isn’t online and is scarce even from antiquarian sources.  I found, to my annoyance on buying it, that the British Library reprint edition only comprises two volumes of the three-volume novel.

The novel, set largely in the late 1850s, begins with the early life of the twin protagonists, Philip Randal and Jessie Meade, children of Matthew and Martha Meade, of Stillbrooke Mill on the outskirts of the town of Cleeve. Jessie is Matthew’s natural daughter, Philip her older foster-brother (fostered from the workhouse, he has a different surname on the stipulation of his late mother).

The Meades are visited by a local aristocrat, Sir Arthur Medway, who believes he has a family connection with Philip and wants to adopt him. Whatever the connection, the Medways dread litigating about it for some reason, and Matthew leaves the decision up to Philip. Philip goes to stay at Marwell Court, finding Sir Arthur, Lady Gertrude and their son Claude congenial company - but ultimately he decides to stick with the family he knows.

Philip gets into his late teens and becomes something of a misfit in Cleeve, with a talent for getting into fights with employers. After one drunken episode, he enlists in the army, which turns out to be the making of him. He distinguishes himself in the Crimea, and returns as an officer. At a regimental ball he meets Claude, who has equally distinguished himself as a survivor of the charge of the Light Brigade, and briefly dances with a young woman called Ada Maynard, before having to rush home because of news that his mother is dying. Not only does his mother die, but also his father takes ill and dies before being able to tell Philip the promised truth about his origins. Philip is left as the guardian of Jessie, and enjoined by the dying Matthew to marry her when she is of age. Philip is, however, being sent to India with his regiment, so he leaves Jessie as a parlour-boarder at a small private school, “Miss Blushford’s”.

While Philip is away, Jessie acquires a largely self-taught education, becoming a passable artist, and is befriended by Clara Lonsdale, an evidently rich lady with connections to the Medways and Marwell Court. They spend time there together, and Jessie becomes a companion to the invalid Ethel Medway.  In the process, Jessie is introduced to Claude Medway. Despite her effective engagement to Philip, Jessie is attracted by Claude’s charm and erudition, and perturbed on finding that he is rumoured to be engaged to Miss Lonsdale.

Meanwhile, Philip is in battle involved in Sir James Outram’s first attempt of the relief of Lucknow during the Indian Rebellion. Wounded, he is captured, but escapes in the general confusion and finds refuge with the sympathetic Gossamjee Bhose. While convalescing, he fondly recalls Jessie, but is surprised to find Ada Maynard is also hiding at Bhose’s house. Fearing betrayal, they escape disguised as Indians and make their way through the rebel lines to the still-besieged British enclave at Lucknow.

Back in England, Jessie is getting restless, discussing with relatives thoughts of a career. Her mutual attraction with Claude is beginning to draw attention; Clara Lonsdale warns her off, and Jessie’s friends and relatives begin to ostracise her socially. Claude, however, begins to pursue her, giving her a gift of a pearl necklace, despite the reality that he has brought his family into doubt and his father tells him that he has no choice but to marry the rich Clara. Nevertheless, Jessie and Claude continue to meet in the woods, and he attempts to wear down her resistance by arguing the fakeness of conventional marriage and the weirdness of her betrothal to her foster-brother, evidently hoping to install her as a mistress on the Continent under some quasi-marital arrangement. Clara Lonsdale overhears their conversation, and swears she will break up their relationship.

Back in India, Ada Maynard and Philip are reflecting on their adventure. Ada, against the wishes of her mother, is corresponding with Philip; he also is receiving, with less than enthusiasm, letters from Jessie. After the final relief of Lucknow, he is convalescing and receives the effects of his late parents, which contain a clue to his origins: diary notes of the unfortunate marriage of his late mother, Mary Randal. He and Ada grow closer, her parents now considering him a suitable match in the light of his prestigious military career. However, a letter arrives from England telling him of the danger to Jessie’s reputation. Reminded of his neglected obligation as a guardian and fiance, he is forced to break with Ada and return to England.

Philip arrives in England to bad news: Jessie has disappeared. The general fear is that she has committed suicide, as her handkerchief was found by the river bank. But Philip suspects she has eloped, since there is no sign of her cherished paintbox. On enquiry, an elderly boatwoman tells him that she rowed Jessie down the Lynn to the nearby seaport to make a connection with the London train. Jessie, it seems, ran away after her reputation had been compromised.

Paul then goes to London to visit Claude Medway, who now lives in reduced circumstances (Miss Lonsdale got tired of waiting, and married someone else). Claude also has no knowledge of Jessie’s whereabouts, though Paul doesn’t believe him. Shadowing Claude, he finds the latter has a disreputable acquaintance, an opium addict called Mr Ashwin who is clearly somehow involved in the family’s affairs. Confronting Claude, Paul finds the truth about his roots: "Ashwin" is his father Algernon Medway, Sir Arthur Medway’s criminal and disinherited brother. United by this unpleasant confidence, Paul and Claude together pursue a clue to Jessie’s whereabouts in London; Ashwin has one of her paintings, bought from an art shop on the Strand. After months, Claude finds her, starving, on Westminster Bridge.

As Jessie recovers at the home of Canon Maynard (another relative of the Medways), Sir Arthur Medway arrives to explain Philip’s family history in full. A will has been found bequeathing the Medway estate to Philip, displacing Sir Arthur. Philip destroys it, saying he will make his own way in life; Ashwin a.k.a. Algernon goes demented and dies. Claude, no longer obligated to Miss Lonsdale, marries Jessie and takes her on a Mediterranean tour as she convalesces, but her health has been too damaged by starvation, and she too dies. Paul and Claude, linked by having loved the same woman and each having wronged her, become lifelong friends.

Paul and Ada briefly meet; his recent bereavement and, in his view, his dishonourable behaviour in getting up her hopes without telling her of Jessie, prevent any pursuit of any relationship at that time. However, years later, the finale of the book finds a highly-decorated general, his wife Ada and their two children looking out at Stillbrooke Mill as their train crosses the railway bridge after leaving Cleeve station. They depart into the future, and the mill and its stream remain as a timeless presence.

Although the relationship predicaments of In the Heart of the Storm hinge on codes of social, premarital and dynastic conduct that are archaic, even silly at times (and were increasingly so even at the time of writing), I did enjoy the novel. It’s psychologically accurate; Paul and Jessie’s lukewarm attachment is understandable for those brought up as siblings, and in both cases their attraction to other more exotic partners equally understandable (Jessie to the higher-class Claude, and Philip to the woman with whom he shared a dangerous adventure). Jessie and Claude, despite their social differences, share the characteristic of upbringings where they never had to make a complex decision, and both consequently decide badly.

The novel is also highly enlightening about the Indian Rebellion. Maxwell Gray was only 11 when it happened, so was writing with historical hindsight. She is not especially jingoistic about it, and writes scathingly about the vindictiveness of the British character at times of national outrage. Frankly, the novel enlightened me on at least one point of historical fact; although I knew of the East India Company, I don’t recall it being sufficiently stressed in school history, or even mentioned, that prior to the Indian Rebellion, India was under the historically unique (and appalling) situation of being ruled by that company, set up solely to extract its wealth and resources. The installation of direct Crown rule - the Raj - replaced this in 1858.

In the Heart of the Storm isn’t terribly specific about its English location. However, MG being a highly autobiographical novelist, “Cleeve” is not inconsistent with Newport, Isle of Wight. The rural characters speak in Isle of Wight dialect, and the course of the River Lynn, on which Stillbrooke Mill is sited ...

He thought of the origin of the Lynn - a little pond a few miles hence of diamond-clear water ... arose the Lynn, a deep trench, flowing swiftly through lush pasture .... broadening in musical remonstrance over the rough pebbles of a highway .. narrowing again through meadows, turning mills, prattling through a village, and then flowing through a chain of willow-edged mill-ponds ... thence reaching the wharves and the quay, where another stream joined it .... A few miles brought the doubled stream to the sea ...

.... matches the course of the Lukely, a.k.a. Carisbrook Stream, that runs through Carisbrooke and joins the River Medina at Newport.

The novel contains an interesting reference to rustic characters watching a comet: perhaps Donati’s Comet in 1858 or one of several in 1857. I’ll check this out further; apart from the chronological interest, a quick skim of sources suggests 1857-1858 to have been a time of comet hysteria, when comet appearances at a time of world unrest triggered apocalyptic fears.

- Ray

Thursday, 5 May 2011

To The Last Round

I've been meaning for a while to mention Andrew Salmon's award-winning To The Last Round ("The Epic British stand on the Imjin River, Korea 1951" - Aurum Press, 2009) and now is an appropriate time, as the BBC recently featured a large section of commemorative/historical news marking the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Imjin River (see

Although To The Last Round focuses on the Battle of Imjin River, this is within the framework of a well-researched history of the Korean War itself. A little-remembered war of the Cold War era, this was fought for possession of the Korean Peninsula, when a United Nations army fought the Communist forces of North Korea and China.

Initially, the war took the form of a series of sweeping attacks and counter-attacks: North Korea crossed the “38th parallel” (the post-WWII frontier) to invade South Korea; a largely American United Nations force counterattacked, driving shattering the North Korean army and pushing north almost to the Chinese border; then the overextended UN army was forced to retreat south by the Chinese, back to a line little different from the original frontier. (In hindsight, it’s fortunate that the messianic General MacArthur was relieved of command before putting into effect his plan to use nuclear weapons). The UN forces further reinforced, a long stalemate ensued until April 1951, when China launched a massive “human wave” attack forcing further UN retreat. This is the context of the Battle of Imjin River when the 29th Infantry Brigade fought a rearguard action, outnumbered 7:1, and a group of British forces were surrounded on “Hill 235” and made a last stand until their surrender and capture.

Without diminishing the role of the Gloucester Regiment, which is central to most accounts, even now, To The Last Round doesn’t gloss over controversies that still exist, notably the media focus on the “Glorious Glosters” at the expense of other central UN combatants (the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, Royal Ulster Rifles, 8th Kings Royal Irish Hussars, as well as the Belgian Battalion), and the question of whether the Gloucesters and other battalions were stranded through mismanagement of the general retreat. Nevertheless, the stand at “Gloster Hill” remains iconic in what was the most bloody battles involving the British army since WWII.

To The Last Round also covers the aftermath: the two-and-a-half year internment of the British survivors, which reads as a mix of the harrowing and the comic (as in the many ways the prisoners wound up their Chinese guards by walking imaginary dogs and playing tennis with imaginary balls and rackets). And for those who returned, the aftermath continued with a general lack of recognition in a country still depressed by World War II and, for many, what would now be called post-traumatic stress disorder. While I’m neither pro-war nor pro-military, I can’t help coming away from the book astounded by the sheer resilience of ordinary men, many of whom were conscripted straight from peacetime National Service into the most hellish experiences.

Andrew Salmon's account is a little completist in places; although necessary to a serious historical account, there are only so many details of troop movements and hardware you can absorb in one reading. But it’s generally highly readable, conveying the horror, confusion and indeed the strangeness of this particular war, such as the appearance of the still-unexplained “Witch” aka “Black Widow”, a long-haired robed figure seen leading Chinese troops. The official site for To The Last Round is

On a personal level: if I've delayed writing about To The Last Round, it's because the whole Imjin episode gives me strange existential jitters, as my father Morris was in the Gloucester Regiment and was a survivor of the battle and subsequent internment.  If he hadn't survived, I wouldn't have existed - and indeed I suspect that his status as a war hero directly led to his rapid marriage to my mother on his return. But equally, I don't doubt that his experience of war and internment - he was invalided out of the army, I guess with what would be called PTSD these days - were what led to the equally rapid divorce. The consequences have been complicated. However, it's a lasting delight that we were able to draw some of the threads together half a century later; there can't be many people who successfully acquire an excellent father and a large and equally excellent extended family at 50. Morris, who is 80 soon, was interviewed for the book and for the BBC coverage: see Private Morris 'Brassy' Coombes recalls Imjin River battle.

- Ray

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Du Maurier's doll

A couple of months back, various newspapers such as the Guardian - Lost Daphne du Maurier stories discovered (21 February 2011) - reported on the forthcoming launch of a Virago anthology of early Daphne Du Maurier works lost after appearance in magazines and obscure story collections. The title story was just published in Guardian Books section.

The Doll
"Lost for more than 70 years, this dark story of a man's obsessive passion for Rebecca, a mysterious violinist, hasn't been published since it appeared in a small collection in 1937."

- Ray

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Enquire within ... if I mistake not

I've just been browsing a print copy of the 1870 edition of Enquire Within Upon Everything, a how-to book for domestic life, first published in 1856 by Houlston and Sons of Paternoster Square in London. As the intro says, its brief was:

Whether You Wish to Model a Flower in Wax; to Study the Rules of Etiquette; to Serve a Relish for Breakfast or Supper; to Plan a Dinner for a Large Party or a Small One; to Cure a Headache; to Make a Will; to Get Married; to Bury a Relative; Whatever You May Wish to Do, Make, or to Enjoy, Provided Your Desire has Relation to the Necessities of Domestic Life, I Hope You will not Fail to 'Enquire Within.'

This guidance extended to language, and it's a prime example of Victorian prescriptivism. In part it offers 256 hints on correct forms of phraseology (see page 54 onward - Rules and Hints for Correct Speaking), and in part it classifies and ridicules various forms of lower-class and dialect speech such as Low Cockney, Genteel Cockney, Provincial Brogues, and so on (see page 63). The social-climbing subtext of prescriptivism couldn't be more blatant.

It is at once absurdly prim, hyper-correct and extremely supercilious about popular usage. Imitation of the 'educated' is the key to success. The most reprehensible errors reside in dialect, especially Cockney.
- Visions of the people: industrial England and the question of class 1848-1914, Patrick Joyce, 1993

As with all prescriptivism, it's a mix of generally-agreed grammatical advice and completely arbitrary edicts based on the uncredited author's personal tastes. For example, the advice on "who" and "whom" is perfectly standard for a formal register of English even nowadays, but many more examples are totally subjective. Just a few:

41. Instead of "I had better go," say "It were better that I should go."
45. Instead of "It is raining very hard," say "It is raining very fast."
55. It is better to say "Bred and born," than "Born and bred."
65. Instead of "If I am not mistaken," say "If I mistake not."
66. Instead of "You are mistaken," say "You mistake."
67. Instead of "What beautiful tea!' say "What good tea!"
115. Instead of "Captain Reilly was killed by a bullet," say "Captain Reilly was killed with a bullet."
123. Instead of "In its primary sense," say "In its primitive sense."
133. Instead of "I lifted it up" say I lifted it."
174. Instead of "The very best," or "The very worst," say "The best, or the worst."
226. Instead of "You will some day be convinced," say "You will one day be convinced."
244. Instead of "Is Lord Palmerston in?" say "Is Lord Palmerston within?"
251. Instead of "The weather is hot," say "The weather is very warm."

The section on Rules of Pronunciation (page 65) is potentially interesting, because it's moderately uncommon to find explicit lists of historical pronunciations. However, as with grammar, in Enquire within it's near-impossible to work out whether the writer is promoting real educated pronunciation of the time or some weird private affectation. Many of the examples - see section 184 - don't seem to reflect even Upper Received Pronunciation.

— age, not idge, as cabbage, courage, postage, village.
— el, not l, model, not modl; novel, not novl.
— ed, not id, or ud, as wicked, not wickid, or wickud.

- Ray

Monday, 2 May 2011

Four-Leaved Clover

Latest instalment in the continuing project to read the works of Maxwell Gray (Mary Gleed Tuttiett):

Four-Leaved Clover - An Everyday Romance (1901) is very much in the same genre as MG's earlier novels The Broken Tryst and The Reproach of Annesley: romance among the younger members of land-owning families in what’s recognisably the southern Isle of Wight. The main setting, the estate of Youngwoods, is on “a small table-land, protected on the north and east by downs, and looking south to the sea” in cycling distance of “Barming” (recalling “Barling” - Brading - in The House of Hidden Treasure). There’s also a crossover of character and setting with another MG work; the Sharlands of Nutcombe Place feature in her Isle of Wight dialect story The Widow’s Clock.

Chapter 1: Thrown Out. This introduces us to Marcia Ludlow, an orphaned single woman of independent means. Riding back from a hunt, her cousin Jack Tyndall is arguing the advantages of a match between Marcia and a visitor to the Tyndalls, Captain Norris Borman. But Marcia, at 25, has formed highly jaundiced views of marriage, saying of husbands that, “When they’re in love they are so abominably selfish, and exacting, and jealous!”, and in any case that she simply dislikes the apparently admirable soldier Borman. The two agree to differ, and they ride through the dusk back to Youngwoods, the estate of Marcia’s uncle, Mr Tyndall. As they enter the house, Marcia runs into another visitor, Major Hugh Beaumont, and promptly faints.
    Over the evening and the next day, during billiards, whist and musical soirees involving the other younger members of the Tyndall family, Mabel, Willoughby and Cecil, there’s much unresolved speculation about the reason for Marcia’s fainting.

Chapter 2: Singular Adventure of Captain Borman.  This takes us more into Borman’s thoughts. He is attracted to Marcia in a distinctly creepy and alpha way - he thinks:

“You shall come at my beck and go at my word, and know that I am ‘dominant master and absolute lord over the soul of one,’ and that one my Lady Disdain. You may elude me now, but not forever.”
“When a woman fears,” he was accustomed to say, “she is not far from love.”

Euw. Marcia evidently gets the vibes, as she continues to argue to Jack that Borman is cold and cruel, likening him to Napoleon. Jack, who also unsuccessfully courted Marcia in the past, doesn’t perceive it. One afternoon, however, while coming back from the village, Marcia hears an uproar from the paddock and finds Borman beating an unruly dog with an iron rod; he kicks a stable boy who tries to stop him. Marcia punches Borman in the face, and he falls into the muddy pond where, to general hilarity of the Tyndalls and village onlookers (and general disappointment that no-one has a “kodak”), he suffers the further indignity of being attacked by geese. After Borman has cleaned himself up, he makes a rapid and barbed farewell.

“I shall always remember this, Miss Ludlow,” he added in a gentle voice, as he turned away. “For I never forget a kindness!” he blazed out with a sudden savage glitter in his eyes.

Chapter 3: The Links. This begins with Jack taking Marcia to task for hitting Borman; he points out that she has made an enemy, and even argues that sporting dogs need to be severely disciplined. Again, the two agree to differ. After a sojourn abroad with another uncle, Marcia returns to Youngwoods in the spring. She’s pleased to see the Tyndalls, but not so pleased to see Borman, who is staying with relatives nearby. The whole family, along with Borman, go to picnic and play golf on the newly-opened links, and Marcia has a second near-faint on seeing Beaumont arriving from the neighbouring estate, Nutcombe Place, to join the group.

Chapter IV: Music and moonlight. This follows domestic relaxation over several days as Beaumont visits Youngwoods and, watched with jealousy by Borman, shares Wagner duets on the piano with Marcia. Borman becomes increasingly jealous as Marcia refuses to dance with him, via the transparent lie that her dance card is full.

Chapter V: Two Letters. Marcia receives an unstamped letter on Nutcombe Place stationery. The contents aren’t immediately revealed to the reader, but it is signed Hugh Beaumont. She is ecstatic, and replies with a love letter, arranging a meeting under a chestnut tree they both know, saying that “the four-leaved clover has come true at last”.
    Marcia and Beaumont meet, but he has disappointing news for her. By showing his handwriting, he demonstrates that the letter Marcia received is a skilful forgery. She is crushed, but the fake letter at least precipitates an honest discussion of their feelings (and an explanation of her fainting). She has been in love with him since, at a ball when she was 17, he presented her with a four-leaved clover. But he tells her that he is rather off the idea of love; having been rejected twice, he has thrown himself into his army career that makes marriage impossible; besides, he is too poor to consider marriage. Both saddened, they pledge friendship by swapping four-leaved clovers, and go their separate ways.

Chapter VI: Under the Chestnut. This reveals the authors of the fake letter; Borman and Willoughby, who have been listening, drop from the tree. Borman feels his revenge for the pond episode is complete, but Willoughby has a conscience about it. Marcia and Beaumont go their separate ways, corresponding politely, as Marcia visits London and Beaumont travels to the East with his regiment.

Chapter VII: The Luck of the Clover Passed On.  Marcia resumes her normal life at Youngwoods. She deduces who sent the hoax letter, on learning that Borman has a talent for imitating handwriting. Then, while visiting Lord and Lady Sharland at Nutcombe Place, she hears shocking news; one of their relatives, a Major Hugh Beaumont, has been killed in an ambush at the north west frontier (i.e. Afghanistan).

Chapter VIII: The Clover Missing. Marcia attends Beaumont’s funeral held at Nutcombe Church (held in absentia - his body has not been found). Most of her family and friends only guess at her feelings for Beaumont, though Borman, who has been observing more closely and also respected Beaumont as a soldier, is more aware of them and begins to regret his actions. Only the Sharlands know the depth of her grief, and they attempt to help her by taking her on a cruise of the Mediterranean on their yacht the Foam Bell. She accepts, but her health and mood decline, not helped by a telegram from Borman saying that Beaumont has been found; she sends an angry reply, asking him when he will stop persecuting her. Lord Sharland attempts to help Marcia by suggesting she take up astronomy and mathematics, as he did when depressed by the death of a woman he loved.

Chapter IX: Blood upon the Clover. This is a flashback following the four-leaved clover and Beaumont to the Northwest Frontier, where Beaumont endures months of hardship on a campaign. He has remained largely unscathed until, on the brink of success, he is shot from the saddle, and he and his horse fall into a ravine. His landing cushioned by undergrowth, he survives, is captured by the forces of a local chieftain, Thuja-ud-deen, and held for ransom. His only solace is the four-leaved clover, which he keeps in a pendant. After months of unsuccessful negotiations, he escapes. Meeting a British agent, he asks for “a cigar and a breakfast, and a tub of some clothes, and the news of the world” before collapsing.

Chapter X: The Clover Returned. This returns to Marcia aboard the Foam Bell. She has indeed taken up mathematics, and is acting as tutor to the Sharland’s children, but her health is still precarious. But one day Lord Sharland brings a letter from Borman, long-delayed because of their varying locations on the cruise. She is initially suspicious of it, but it proves to contain a handsome apology for his actions, and an assurance that his earlier telegram was not a lie. There are further letters, including one from Beaumont himself.
    Some months later, Marcia and Beaumont meet under the chestnut tree, both still shaky in health, and he pledges his love by presenting her with his Victoria Cross. Some further months later, recovered, they marry at Nutcombe Church, and all present wear four-leafed clover motifs. Beaumont is philosophical when he hears from Marcia about Willoughby’s confession about the forged letter:

“It was vile,” Beaumont commented ... “But the best luck I ever had. It all came from your defence of the dog. Without that we might have missed the luck of the four-leaved clover.”

Maxwell Gray is a biographically infuriating author. Very little is known about her early life, and yet what is findable usually finds its way into her novels in relatively undiluted form. The motif of the heroine's separation from a beloved soldier is a recurring one in her novels and stories. I'd love to know if it has any basis in her life.

- Ray