Thursday, 27 December 2012

The Last Ringbearer

Another recommendation from over-Christmas reading: the 1999 fantasy novel The Last Ringbearer. I mentioned it in February 2011, and liked the concept a lot, but for whatever reason only just got around to reading it, after recent reacquaintance with Tolkien's world led me to a handy ePUB version that worked on the Kobo.

The Last Ringbearer, written by Russian paleontologist Kirill Eskov as Последний кольценосец and translated by Yisroel Markov, is a revisionist account of the events depicted in The Lord of The Rings. It works on a number of premises, one being a geologist's take on necessary consequences of Tolkien's geography of Middle Earth (the world has to be bigger than the part he shows) - but the most significant is the idea that The Lord of the Rings is a mythologised 'history written by the victors'.

The trio of chief characters of The Last Ringbearer are two from Mordor - Haladdin, an Umbarian academic turned field medic, and Tzerlag, an Orocuen sergeant (an orc, in fact, in this book a human ethnicity) - and Baron Tangorn, a disaffected Gondorian soldier-aristocrat. The three are thrown together in the deserts of Mordor after its fall: Haladdin and Tzerlag save Tangorn, who has been left for dead after he tried to stop an elf-led civilian massacre by mercenaries on his own side.

After this brief framing, we get a flashback of The War of the Ring told with a very different slant from Tolkien's. Mordor is an enlightened technological civilisation ruled by the unremarkable Sauron VIII against a general backdrop of barbarian feudal rival kingdoms such as Gondor and Rohan. It has, however, damaged its self-sufficiency by disastrous land irrigation mistakes, and this weakness is taken as cue for the warmongering Gandalf to advise a Western attack on it.

This attack succeeds through various factors. The "vast Mordor hordes" are a propaganda exaggeration. The Western forces have magic: they can create undead armies, have palantir communication, and got the Elves on their side by the loan of a powerful clairvoyant and magic-enhancing device, The Mirror. They indulge in various breaches of rules of engagement, such as failing to honour conventions on single combat. In the aftermath of the main battles, Aragorn seizes the throne of Gondor by engineering the murder of the de facto king, Denethor (with the unlikely cover story that the latter just happened to set fire to himself), and assures the compliance of allies by hostage-taking (he keeps Éowyn, sister of the Rohan heir Éomer, along with the genuine Gondor heir Faramir, under guarded exile). However, it's not all roses for Aragorn: Arwen will not consummate their alliance, as from her immortal Elvish viewpoint, he's little more than a primitive baby. The Elves also, naturally, won't give back The Mirror.

Haladdin, Tzerlag and Tangorn form an alliance, initially for mutual protection from Gondorian mop-up operations, and kill Eloar, the elf who was behind the massacre. Then, while on watch, Haladdin gets a visit from a Nazgûl, Sharya-Rana (the benign and rational spirit of a dead mathematician) who tells him what's at stake for the future. The world ("Arda") is at the interface of physical and magical worlds, and the Elves have plans to exploit this and lead Middle Earth into an Elf-dominated stasis. The only way to stop this is to disconnect the worlds by destroying The Mirror in the Eternal Fire of Mount Doom within 100 days: a daunting task since The Mirror weighs 1000 pounds and is installed in the totalitarian Elf stronghold of Lórien. Haladdin has been selected to do it because he has no magical abilities, and so is impervious to magical attacks. Sharya-Rana dies - or rather discorporates, having used all his energies - and Haladdin is left to contemplate how he can achieve this quest (of which more in a moment).

I was reading this book well into the small hours - I finished at nearly 5am - and was gripped. Eskov has thoroughly worked out the whole revisionist scenario, and it fits the Lord of the Rings timeline beautifully. The overall stance is humane and rationalist, fiercely polemical in its stance of outrage at misrepresented history. And, as Eskov has stated, it avoids alignment of good/evil with ethnicity or military side. It's thoroughly realistic in its portrayal of brutal Realpolitik and the double-edged aspect of espionage: for example, Baron Tangorn's personal shame is that he compiled for Gondor the open source intelligence report on food imports showing that Mordor was no threat, not realising that this very report would be used as the rationale for Gondor's unprovoked attack on it.

Eskov takes a real joy in his world, too, showing vividly the multifarious cultures that thrive in a geographical area stretching across the equivalent of, say, NW Europe, North Africa, the Mediterranean, and Eastern Europe. He delights in food and wine and how they're prepared, in total contrast to Tolkien's descriptions that really seem to stem from the latter's dull and abstemious tastes. However, this joy does have a slight downside: Eskov occasionally digresses into cultural back-story that holds up the plot. There's a huge and not very relevant chunk about the history of Middle Earth's Africa analogue, and an interminable section (which really belongs in a separate novel) about Baron Tangorn's adventures as a spy in the port city-state of Umbar, playing off the various security services against each other.

That aside, The Last Ringbearer made very satisfying reading, rich in allusion to similar scenarios in real-world history (if you don't spot them, there's an appendix) and more than a few neat references - when the characters discuss the "World as Text theory" - to the whole issue of the fictionality of both The Last Ringbearer and The Lord of the Rings. Despite it being let down in places by longueurs, it's a superb book: a commenter to my earlier post called it "This is a true book of ideas in the Russian tradition". And it's freely available, now in a 2nd Edition.

The copyright is undoubtedly still very 'grey': free or not, this is still an unauthorized derivative work. The Tolkien estate is not known for its liking of derivative works, but there doesn't seem to have been any move from it lately on the matter. Here's the official page, and here is where I found the ePUB version.

(Check out also this striking Flickr image of Dubai by Rick's Images. A detail of this, which shows towers including the Burj Khalifa under construction in March 2008, was used as the cover image for the Tenseg Press edition I read).

- Ray

Spoiler warning:  I've completed the plot summary below, in white text. Mouse over if you want to read it.

So ... Haladdin works out a solution to the problem of getting The Mirror to the Eternal Fire of Mount Doom: do the opposite, and use a pair of palantíri to transmit the Eternal Fire to The Mirror. They obtain the palantíri (one of them by aiding a coup to free Faramir) and set up the second half of the plan. Baron Tangorn goes alone to Umbar, where he conducts months of espionage in order to contact the Elven underground with a forged letter and the fiction that Eloar is still alive but imprisoned. The Elves don't initially buy this idea, and Tangorn thinks he has failed; he plans to leave Umbar with his courtesan lover Alviss, but is tragically murdered by his pursuers when he steps out to buy her a gift. Ironically, the Elves take this as evidence of the truth of his carrying dangerous information; unknown to him, he has succeeded.

Haladdin's plan goes ahead: to subvert Eloar's mother, the high-ranking Elf Eornis, into setting up a palantír connection, thinking she can talk with her son. The Mirror, she is told, must be in sight at her end as a bona fide of her location. The palantír is dropped into Lórien from a glider piloted by the troll Kumai - trolls are another human ethnicity - and the Elves fail to find it (Eornis has glued it underneath The Mirror). Even though The Mirror is giving distinct warnings of impending doom, the Elves fail to act decisely because of their one weakness: a paranoid demarcation of decision-making among their politely bickering Politburo-like leaders.

However, as the moment approaches when Haladdin will drop his palantír into the Fire, Gandalf spots the danger and casts a spell on Haladdin's palantír to turn him to stone; it doesn't work, because of the latter's lack of magical nature. Saruman takes over, attempting to reason with Haladdin via the palantír, and tells him what's probably the truth: that Sharya-Rana's scenario is just one theory, and that destroying The Mirror may in fact destroy the world. However, fate intervenes when Tzerlag accidentally touches the palantír and begins to turn to stone. Haladdin takes the chance and destroys it to save his friend, who lives with just the loss of a couple of fingers.

There are massive detonations - and the magic simply goes away. Elves become just beautiful people without power or charisma. Magical items, such as Elven medical kits, cease to work. Arwen loses her power over Aragorn, and he goes on to a career as an enlightened king who brings in a long era of democracy in Gondor, and is ultimately succeeded by Faramir.

The book ends with a future perspective - a future in which history has gone more or less like ours, with another continent called Amengo discovered - discussing the historicity and modern media treatment of the characters in the narrative. A "Western literary adaptation" called The Lord of the Rings is one of them.

- Ray

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Scots cyberpunk

The Scottish archipelago as depicted
Map via
A while back I briefly mentioned Matthew Fitt's SF novel But n Ben A-Go-Go (Luath Press, 2000), but I finally got a copy and read it yesterday.

As SF, its genre is cyberpunk - "high tech and low life" - but with an unusual setting: an inundated Scotland in 2090 after God's Flood, a melting of the polar ice leaving only the highest mountain-tops above sea-level, most of the population living in Port, a floating megacity tethered to the sea-bed above the submerged Greenock. Disease is rife, from sun-induced skin cancer to the endemic "Mowdie", a virus that turns into a lethal form, "Senga", if carriers have actual sex (though virtual sex is possible in the cyberspace environment .

The protagonist is Paolo Broon, an ex-soldier who works as a "third-class cyberjanny", a kind of enforcer who retrieves data and captures errant employees for "Clart Central". His wife Nadia is incarcerated in a medical unit with Senga - a consequence of an affair with another unknown man. Paolo breaks from his routine life when Nadia's medical insurance runs out, losing the only legal routes to finding the DNA contact that can neutralise her virus. But he suspects that the contact is his estranged father, Diamond Broon, a vastly rich criminal mastermind incarcerated in a luxury prison, "Inverdisney", and resolves to seek him out. As it happens, Diamond - an ailing grotesque who has to be carried around by a giant Inuit bodyguard - is also seeking out Paolo, and via messages received through their respective shady contacts on VINE, their paths converge. Diamond escapes from prison to his luxury island hideout, But n Ben A-Go-Go, as Paolo, now pursued by keen young police lieutenant, swims 200km and braves the dangers of the arid 'Drylands' - sunstroke, renegade American survivalists, and mutant kelpies - to confront his father there.

I've delayed tackling But n Ben A-Go-Go for a long time because I thought it would be hard going: the unusual aspect of the novel I haven't mentioned so far is that it's written entirely in a vigorous broad Scots. A sample from the beginning, where Paolo is visiting Nadia in the Rigo Imbeki Medical Center:
Paolo’s ile-stoor resistant bitts squealed on the ceramic flair as he stepped back an glowered west alang Gallery 1083. It wis a summer Sunday forenoon the clatty end o January an the mile lang visitors’ corridor wis toom. A singil lawyer an her lycra-leggit secretary intromittit the silence, shooglin past on a courtesy electric caur. An indie-pouered germsooker jinked inconspicuously in and oot o Paolo’s personal space, dichtin up microscopic clart as it drapped aff his body.

A quarter mile doon, the wersh blinterin sun forced itsel in throu the UV filter gless at the corridor heid, illuminatin the faces an keek panels o the first fifty Omegas. An as he skellied intae the white bleeze, a troop o droid surveillance puggies advanced in heelstergowdie formation alang the corridor roof, skited by owre his heid an wi a clatter o mettalic cleuks, skittered awa eastwards doon the shadowy vennel. The toomness o the visitors’ corridor offered Paolo nae bield fae the buildin’s oorie atmosphere; Gallery 1083 wis an eerie airt wi or wioot passengers.
As it happened, it turned out to be very readable: about on a level with Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker and Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange. The author does help us along. As he mentions in the slightly too earnest intro, it is to some extent written in a contrived Scots, where unfamiliar words and any number of neologisms - "stoorsooker", "incendicowp", and so on - are well-framed by context. But on reflection, I'd quite forgotten the degree of familiarity I have from childhood: my grandmother had Scottish roots, subscribing to the Sunday Post and getting me Oor Wullie and The Broons annuals every year (before the days when they anglicized the captions); and my stepfather's family were fairly broad Scots speakers. I think that whatever the context provided, it helps with But n Ben A-Go-Go to have some familiarity with Scots vocabulary: no amount of context will tell you that "coup" (a rubbish dump) is pronounced "cowp", not "coo".

There's a certain level of pastiche to the whole novel. For anyone reasonably familiar with Scottish culture, it's hard not to associate Paolo Broon's name with Pa Broon of The Broons. And the portrayal of the floating city of Port has a lot in common with Megacity One in the SF comic 2000AD (which has considerable Scottish roots - see Scotland's influence on 2000AD's Judge Dredd). It has a similar style in its naming of buildings and institutions after contemporary figures; there's an Evelyn Glennie Music Faculty; a Lorne Gillies Square; and a sports team called Portic Thistle.

However, the novel isn't just an extended Scots joke. Its world is a very dark one, where a tropical storm can sink a city suburb, and characters are forced to unusual motivations: a tight legal system, and a powerful taboo about murder, constrain Paolo from any obvious and lethal solutions to his problems, and point up the sheer unpleasantness of his criminal father. Diamond's sole justification for refusing the DNA sample that will release Nadia from years of torment is "Ah am an awfie, awfie bad man".

If you like SF and languages, I highly recommend it.

Eurasis and Africa as depicted
Map via
Geeky aside: the geographical assumptions didn't ring quite true. Fitt's "Gods's Flood" - all polar ice melted - raises the sea level by 700 metres. The actual estimate is 70 metres. As with Marcus Sedgwick's Floodland, the pattern of inundation seems to be a fictional vehicle necessary to create a "waterworld" rather than a realistic one - or maybe the author just got the decimal point wrong.

- Ray

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Trailer #1 - more reflective version.
Trailer #2 - more gung-ho version.

This afternoon Clare and I went to Vue Exeter to see Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

It was hard to imagine how The Hobbit, a much shorter work than The Lord of The Rings, could be stretched to a film trilogy. But it managed the first part effortlessly, while followed the book very faithfully, from Bilbo's recruitment as a "burglar" for a party of dwarves on a quest to regain their home, through to the passage though the Misty Mountains and Bilbo's finding of the Ring. It even included Tolkien's songs, without their coming across as obtrusive musical set-pieces.

The film starts with a framing device of Bilbo writing the story on the eve of his departure party at the beginning of The Lord of the Rings, then a deal of backstory of how the dwarves were driven from their subterranean kingdom by the dragon Smaug. Other areas for expansion included scenes with the nature wizard Radagast (only briefly mentioned in The Hobbit); the party being caught up in a mountain battle between the again briefly-mentioned stone giants; and a continuing thread deriving from the enmity between Thorin, the dwarves' leader, and Azog, the orc chieftain who killed his father.

The story is also very neatly framed as a precursor to the events of The Lord of the Rings. In the book, there's no motivation for Gandalf's choice of Bilbo as a participant. The film, however, suggests strongly that Gandalf is working from some intuition or foreknowledge of the importance of Bilbo and Frodo in the War of the Ring decades later. Saruman's presence, fairly unimportant in the book, also acquires darker significance in the light of later events in The Lord of the Rings.

Martin Freeman is an excellent choice as the younger Bilbo, and the dwarves (various largely unrecognisable character actors including Ken Stott and James Nesbit) catch the right balance between humor, pathos and nobility.

The effects, as usual, can't be faulted. This was the first time I'd seen a 3D film since decades back, when I saw one using a creaky red-blue system, but I was blown away by the Real3D system that uses circularly-polarised frames. It's done with a great deal more subtlety than the old-style 3D films that were obsessed with thrusting objects at you out of the screen. It's no mere gimmick, adding intimacy to indoor scenes, and vast depth to landscapes and other vistas.

Overall, we were both delighted with it, and recommend it, with the proviso that Clare found it somewhat over-padded with battle scenes.

Addendum: I do slightly fear where it'll go from here, though. I re-read The Hobbit today. IIt's a 271-page book. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey takes us up to page 102; the death of the dragon Smaug, another natural break, is on page 225; and the rest, including the Battle of the Five Armies, occupies only the remaining 50 pages. I hope - and I agree with Clare - that we're not going to get all the interesting stuff in the first two segments, with the third a padded-out battlefest.

- Ray

Friday, 14 December 2012

Blue pill - wrong Kingsley

extract, Nelson's Column, page 15,
East Devon Coast & Country, Dec 2012
One for Misattribution Corner. I was just reading East Devon Coast & Country, one of our glossy regional magazines. I recommend it: it's an exception to the usual run of advertorial magazines in actually having good articles, and paying contributors for them. What's more, it puts its issues online.

I did, however, catch one of its regulars in an error in the December 2012 edition, with a reference to a quotation concerning dyspepsia:

Monday, 10 December 2012

The Silence of Dean Maitland: Volume 3

Judkins gives Dean Maitland a shock
frontispiece, 1906 Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner edition
On with the reading of Maxwell Gray's 1886 novel The Silence of Dean Maitland.

The first two volumes had followed the consequences of events that kicked off in the village of Malbourne on New Year's Day of 1863. The curate Cyril Maitland has got the coachman's daughter Alma Lee pregnant, and (we think) killed her father Ben. However, Maitland let his best friend Henry Everard take the rap, and got on with his career for nine years while Everard is in prison (apart from a brief escape in 1872).

Jump to 1881, and a grizzled man, the recently-released Everard, is on the train from Dartmoor to Exeter. He stops off there to buy a change of clothing, then continues homeward toward Malbourne, where he hopes his fiancee Lilian is waiting for him. However, he decides to stop off at the cathedral city of Belminster (Winchester) to look at old haunts, and goes to soak up the ambience at the cathedral.

There he has a number of surprises. He finds that Maitland is now Dean of Belminster, a nationally-famous preacher and author set for promotion to Bishop, and also has a chat with a blind chorister who turns out to be Maitland's son, Everard Maitland.

Outside his career, Dean Maitland has had mixed fortunes; his wife Marion (Everard's sister) died some years previously, as have several other children except for the blind Everard and his daughter Marion. He's also become something of an 'Agony Uncle', a consultant on spiritual matters following his book The Secret Penitent. On the same day Everard is in town, Maitland gets a visit from a young American he thinks is seeking advice. To his shock, it's a Benjamin Judkins, Alma's son, who has come to demand that Maitland admits to be his father. At first Maitland denies all knowledge and threatens to sue, but is taken aback when Judkins shows him a note from Alma. She too is in Belminster, dying in the hospital of a terminal illness; the note confesses to a lifetime of guilt at her perjury, and begs Maitland to visit her.

Now both Everard and Maitland are going through crises. Everard is reading Maitland's books, and impressed by their honesty and spiritual message. Maitland thinks on his own guilt - it's finally explicit that he killed Alma's father in a fight - which is worsened when he fails to visit Alma in time. The two men's paths finally cross when Everard goes to Maitland's sermon in the cathedral, and Maitland gives a highly self-referential sermon about Judas, to the effect that Judas must have been a high-ranking hypocrite. The sermon affects Everard deeply. He concludes correctly that Maitland has been under agonies of guilt for 18 years, and writes to him, forgiving him. On receiving the letter, Maitland, who we now find is taking laudanum for a nervous complaint, is shaken to the point of turning down a royal edict to dine at Osborne House, and packs off his family to Portsmouth.

Everard, having had no reply from Maitland, gets the Oldport train, and by staggering coincidence finds he's sharing it with the judge who convicted him, who he also forgives. After a painfully nostalgic journey through Chalkburne, he finally comes to Malbourne Rectory, where he and Lilian are happily reunited.

Unknown to Everard and Lilian, Dean Maitland is now on self-destruct. In front of an audience including the Prime Minister, at a sermon at Belminster intended to mark his accession to Bishop, he makes a full confession of his crimes, then slumps by the pulpit and dies. On hearing the news, Everard and Lilian go to Belminster and find that Maitland has prepared well. Anticipating the possibility, as indeed happens, that his confession may be taken as insanity, he has left detailed legal depositions; he has also left Everard a hefty bequest. Everard finds himself exonerated, and even feted for his fortitude. A final chapter takes us to Switzerland some time later, where Everard and Lilian are enjoying happy middle age together.

Conclusion: I found it a very good novel, and I can see why it was a best-seller. Sometimes it's weakened by some horrible implausibilities - what are the chances of meeting the judge who convicted you when taking the train home from prison? - but it's well-crafted overall, with the central conflict played out excellently. And Maxwell Gray hadn't got into her later habits of over-egged flights of landscape description.

 It didn't go unnoticed at the time that there were thematic similarities to previous 19th century novels featuring clergy-gone-bad. One reviewer mentioned the possibility of unconscious plagiarism from "Lockhart, Hawthorne, Charles Reade": a reference to John Gibson Lockhart’s 1822 Adam Blair, which concerns a widowed Scottish minister who has an affair with a married woman; Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, in which the minister Arthur Dimmesdale keeps silent about his adultery with Hester Prynne (who takes all the public blame) until - like Maitland - he finally confesses in the pulpit and dies; and Charles Reade’s 1866 Griffith Gaunt; or Jealousy, in which an eloquent young priest attempts to seduce a married woman. Nevertheless, Dean Maitland seemed to hit a nerve by putting events in the hitherto cosy context of middle-class English clergy.

I do wonder what Mary Tuttiett's family made of it, since the character inspirations don't look far from home: her father Frank Tuttiett was a doctor, and her uncle was  Lawrence Tuttiett, a hymn writer, author and churchman whose career wasn't dissimilar to Cyril Maitland's (minus the sensational ending).

The travelogue aspects are proving very interesting, and I may well write more about this. I've only just realised that Alma Lee's family live in a building identifiable as The Temple, Calbourne, an ornamental folly on the Swainston estate. I've written more on this in an update: To see Swainston.

- Ray

The silence of Dean Maitland: a novel (1886) - Volume 3 (Internet Archive ID silenceofdeanmai03gray).

Thursday, 6 December 2012

The Silence of Dean Maitland: Volume 2

On with the reading of Maxwell Gray's 1886 novel The Silence of Dean Maitland.

Volume 1 had introduced us to the village of Malbourne, and left us with a cliffhanger. On the New Year's Day of 1863, the coachman's daughter Alma Lee has given birth to an illegitimate child, and Alma's father Ben has been found dead in a quarry. The former misfortune is known by the reader (though not Malbourne's inhabitants) to be down to the charismatic curate Cyril Maitland. The latter, circumstances are rapidly pinning on Maitland's best friend, the doctor Henry Everard.

As we get into Volume 2, things rapidly worsen for Everard. The police are called in, decide the death is foul play, and Everard is arrested. The case goes through the magistrates court in the nearest town, Oldport, then a few months later comes to trial in the Crown Court in the nearest city, Belminster. It doesn't go well for Everard: it's a tough judge; he creates a bad impression by being posh and confident; and his alibi witnesses are weak. And then Alma takes the stand as star witness, a poised and equally charismatic "ruined maid", and gives crucial evidence that a man in the woods offered her gold for the baby's upkeep, then got into an altercation with her father. But she won't say who, because "I promised that I would never betray him". On being pressed - reminded that it's a contempt of court issue - she perjures herself and falsely identifies Everard as the man. At this point Everard realises what's happened, and despairs.

Maitland, meanwhile, has spent the beginning of the year in a pious funk of denial, not helped by being required to baptise Alma's baby Benjamin, and worrying it'll look like him when it grows up. After wandering Belminster, he decides to do the decent thing and rushes to the court. "Stop !" he cries halfway through the pronouncement of sentence. "I have evidence — important evidence. The prisoner is innocent!" But it's too late. He's silenced, and Everard is sentenced to 20 years for manslaughter. Maitland faints as Everard is taken down. And he stays fainted, more or less, for some months, in a state of near-fatal mental and physical collapse.

The scene shifts to Malbourne in late summer, two years later, and life goes on. The now-recovered Maitland has returned from a continental Grand Tour with his new bride Marion (Everard's sister); he has not confessed to anything, having seemingly compartmentalised anything to do with Everard (though he gets distinctly jittery on seeing Alma). Alma is ostracised by the village for having been responsible for Everard's conviction, and gets engaged to a villager, George Judkins - they plan to start a new life in America. Lilian, Everard's fiancee, rejects an marriage proposal by the local aristocrat, Ingram Swaynstone: she intends to wait for Everard.

The scene shifts again to 1872 (as evidenced by Everard's comment "It is nine years since I touched any drink"), when Everard is working in Portsmouth as "No. 62" on a convict gang. In those nine years, he's built up a good steam of hatred toward "the traitor Maitland", and he comes to a particular low ebb when a chance encounter with a lady in the street brings news that his younger brother is dead. By coincidence, the lady is a distant relative, a Mrs Keppel Everard, who is intrigued by his interest and makes enquiries that lead to Lilian starting to write to him, greatly cheering him.

However, this mood improvement kicks him out of his mindset of dull acceptance. The further torment of family nearby - his father has been promoted to Port Admiral, and he has seen his sister Marion with Maitland visiting - proves the spur to action. On a labouring party, he uses the cover of a violent thunderstorm to jump a ditch and do a runner.

His escape is helped by a run of good fortune. He's halted by a sentry - who turns out to be an university acquaintance, Balfour, who has fallen on almost as hard times. Balfour gets him a change of clothes and helps him hide in a tree until he can get out of town over the bastions protecting it. He's horrified when a man recognises him - but it turns out to be a workman who he saved from drowning in the dock, who gives him money. And then he passes a house where a carriage is parked, and finds his sister Marian is one of the occupants: but she doesn't recognise him! She gets him an odd job mowing the lawn at the house, which he does before moving on, having picked up a religious tract that shows Maitland has now risen in ecclesiastical rank to Canon (well on the way to bishop). A lapse of three weeks finds him hiding, under the pseudonym "Stone", in the vicinity of a village called Hawkburne, where he writes to Lilian of his escape and to request money, and awaits a reply. It doesn't come, and eventually he's found collapsed under a tree and recaptured.

A fortnight later, Canon Maitland is in his drawing room with his wife Marion and sister Lilian. They're discussing Stone, the escaped convict from Portsmouth, when Lilian gets Everard's letter, which has been delayed. She faints!

Thoughts. This is a middling second volume. The psychology of Maitland's failure to confess on his recovery isn't much explored: I guess one interpretation is the that the tensions of the situation were so great that he has buried the memory as too traumatic to bring to the surface. The Portsmouth segment describing Everard's prison life is very good, both psychologically and in regional detail - until he escapes. Unless MG had Divine Providence in mind, the series of handy coincidences that provide him with aid out of the fortifications, clothing, money and food are outrageous, and the chance meeting with Marion even more so. This is lazy plotting. And not another fainter!

Belminster, out of interest, is Winchester. Although MG threw us a physical impossibility in Volume 1 - a direct train from there to Oldport (Newport, Isle of Wight) - the general description of its setting matches, and was noted by contemporary reviewers.
All who are fond of Winchester will enjoy the pretty descriptions of the old cathedral town of Belminster
- The Gentleman's Magazine, Part 2, Page 51, 1897

All lovers of modern English fiction will recall how, under the name of "Belminster," this cathedral is vividly and lovingly described in that powerful novel, The Silence of Dean Maitland.
- Our English cathedrals, James Sibree, 1911
If you're interested in Portsmouth's local history, there's a deal of interest in the descriptions of Portsmouth in this volume, which describes a period when convict labour was being used to demolish Portsmouth's city walls. As MG tells it:
Some few years since, the fiat went forth for the old familiar walls and heavy gates of Portsmouth town to be levelled to the ground, that the space which these now useless relics of the past occupied might be covered with buildings connected with the defences and adapted to the requirements of the present. Down went many a fine old elm beneath axe and rope, and bit by bit the ramparts disappeared, and the ditches were filled by the busy hands of sunburnt men, armed with barrow, pick-axe, and spade.
The Landport Gate page at Memorials & Monuments in Portsmouth has a small picture at its foot, circa 1870, showing the kind of fortification Everard would have had to escape over. The general extent of the walls and polygonal bastions being demolished can be seen in the final map (here) on the Portsmouth page of Fortified Places. The 1874 Ordnance Survey Map shows how, hitherto, the area of 'Old Portsmouth' had been isolated as a defensible citadel separate, and buffered by open space, from the general urbanisation of Portsea Island.

Low-resolution map for illustration. Historic map data is (© and
database right Crown copyright and Landmark Information
Group Ltd. (All rights reserved 2009).
Looking at the Times Digital Archive, a plausible date for Everard's escape is July 25th 1872. On that day, southern England, including Portsmouth, experienced an unusually fierce succession of thunderstorms with a record amount of rainfall.

The silence of Dean Maitland: a novel (1886) - Volume 2 (Internet Archive ID silenceofdeanmai02gray).

- Ray

Monday, 3 December 2012

Vigilant in Topsham

I'm not terribly into boats, but Friday had a break from the recent "gray afternoon was wearing on to its chill close" weather; and to shake out the cobwebs, I pottered down to Topsham Quay to look at the Vigilant, a 1904 Thames barge that recently arrived here for renovation.

The owners have put an explanatory plaque on the side:
1904 Thames Barge

The Vigilant was built in Ipswich and is a class spritsail Thames Barge rigged with a bowsprit.

She is listed in the Historic Ships Register. Although there were hundreds of these working sail boats on the Thames, only about thirty are still in existence.

Vigilant was built as a working barge for the Horlock Family, who were the Eddie Stobart of the 1900s. These barges worked around the coast transporting massive loads, when Topsham was a working port, they would have been frequent visitors to the Quay.

Vigilant weighs 74 tonnes, could carry 120 tonnes, and was used to ferry grain. When fully loaded up to their marks, these barges would be virtually submerged. They were powered by massive ochre-coloured sails, engines only being fitted in the 1930s. The main sail alone took three men to hoist.

As well as working, these barges were built with racing in mind. The barge racing matches still continue to this day, with racing matches off the Thames Estuary during summer. In 1928, Vigilant was a class race winner. She continued to be sailed until the 1930s, when she was converted into a houseboat.

Vigilant has travelled from the River Colne in Essex down the Channel to Topsham, and will be sympathetically restored to enable her to once again take to the seas under her red ochre sails as a racing barge.

If you would like to be a friend of Vigilant, please email
The Society for Sailing Barge Research site has a few more specifics on its barges listing:
Of Harwich
Staysail Class
Official No. 116176, 73 ton. Built of wood at Ipswich in 1904 by Orvis & Fuller. Owned by Alfred Horlock and converted to a yacht in 1932. Sold back into trade and converted to motor barge by Whiting Bros. Passed to L.R.T.C. Owned by Dawes, Thomas and Martin. as private barge yacht until sold to Ms. Lynn Johnson & Graham Head late 1997 and now based at Woodbridge, Suffolk. moved to St Osyth 2004.
- Ray

Sunday, 2 December 2012

The Silence of Dean Maitland: Volume 1

The Silence of Dean Maitland: title page. Note the deleted draft titles:
The Agony of Dean Maitland, and A Terrible Price.
I was going to start reading Matthew Fitt's Scots SF novel But n Ben A-Go-Go yesterday, but it suddenly occurred to me that there's a remaining gap in my coverage of the Maxwell Gray canon: her original 1886 best-seller The Silence of Dean Maitland. I read it in January 2009 and posted a brief summary, but have never properly written about it for the blog. So ...

The start of the hill up through "Chalkburne"
The Silence of Dean Maitland uses a standard mid-Victorian "three-decker" format, originally published as three separate volumes. It's very solidly an Isle of Wight novel, set largely around "Malborne" (a fictionalised Calbourne), and starts not with the titular character but with a coachman's daughter, Alma Lee, taking a long walk home from "Oldport" up through "Chalkburne" to the downs, starting with Gray's for-a-time classic description:
The gray afternoon was wearing on to its chill close; the dark cope of immovable dun cloud overhead seemed to contract and grow closer to the silent world beneath it, and the steep, chalky hill, leading from the ancient village, with its hoary castle and church, up over the bleak, barren down was a weary thing to climb.
Alma gets a lift on a horse-drawn wagon, but when she arrives home, the (married) driver wants payment with a kiss, Alma is rescued by a visiting family friend, Cyril Maitland, the young curate of Malbourne. Then we're rapidly introduced to the social mix in the area of Malbourne: centrally, there's the handsome, charismatic and clever Cyril Maitland, and his sister Lilian; Maitland's college friend, the doctor Henry Everard, and his sister Marion (Maitland is engaged to Marion, and Everard has a long-standing friendship with Lilian). At opposite ends of the scale are the aristocratic Swaynestones, and the various villagers and minions, who include the coachman Ben Lee and his attractive and intense daughter Alma. There is, ominously, a definite attraction between Alma and Maitland, despite the latter's engagement and radically different social status.

Cut to a year later, and Everard and Maitland are travelling home by train to Malbourne, exchanging theological conversation. Maitland is evidently spiritually troubled, and mortifying himself under his shirt with a spiked crucifix, and when they arrive at Oldport, insists on putting dried peas in his boots for the five-mile walk to Malbourne, where they get a frosty reception from Ben Lee. It's noticed that Maitland doesn't look well, and it turns out he's broken off his engagement with Marion after she insisted on going abroad for a year with her convalescent brother. Everard and Marion are reconciled, but this is overshadowed by the news that Alma is pregnant by some unknown upper-class man.

Maitland preaches an apposite sermon at Malborne Church, on the subject of innocence and guilty conscience. It's generally assumed to be an attempt to stir the conscience of the unknown father of Alma's baby, but no-one suspects that it could be self-referential (not even Everard, who has found an incriminating letter in the pocket of his coat, which Maitland had borrowed). Meanwhile, Judkins, a rejected suitor of Alma's has been selling to Ben Lee the theory that Everard is the father, on grounds of seeing Everard's talking with Alma in the woods (actually about her mother's illness).

By the end of the year, Everard and Lilian have become engaged, and everyone on the upper-crust side of Malborne is happy. Everard, Lilian and Maitland go for a walk in the forest on New Year's Eve, returning their separate ways. But simultaneously, Alma's now-enraged father Ben has also headed for the the same forest, aiming to have it out with Everard. The morning after, the general celebratory mood is broken when Ben's body is found in a quarry - and on the same day, Alma gives birth to a child.

to be continued

Brief thoughts; it's an interesting start - Thomas Hardy meets The Scarlet Letter. The novel has a very vivid sense of location and character, representing well the social strata of a mid-Victorian village, and the tensions are set up from the start. It has some weaknesses of an early novel: a tendency to disgress irrelevantly into the author's own obsessions (MG liked cats, and there are extended descriptions of the antics of a cat, Mark Anthony) and some pretty odd areas of local colour that again appear irrelevant. There's a set-piece, for instance, where Lilian displays powers as a horse-whisperer. The climax of the first volume is well set-up; we can see exactly where it's going, as Everard innocently collects circumstantial evidence - being in the forest at the wrong time, a muddied coat from a fall, and a black eye acquired when a child bumps into him - that we just know will prove incriminating.

View Larger Map
Calbourne aka Malbourne.

The silence of Dean Maitland: a novel (1886) - Volume 1 (Internet Archive ID silenceofdeanmai01gray).

- Ray

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Betty Stogs

Beachcombing's Bizarre History Blog, in an article about the largely forgotten Cornish folklorist William Bottrell - see William Bottrell and the Strangest Funeral Procession in the World - just quoted a wonderful uncredited obituary imagining a funeral cortège for Bottrell consisting of a throng of characters and entities (most of whom/which I'd never heard of) from Cornish folklore.

One not there, who ought to be, is Betty Stogs. The earliest account I can find of her is in Robert Hunt's 1865 Popular romances of the west of England; or, The drolls, traditions, and superstitions of old Cornwall (here's a 1908 reprint in the Internet Archive: ID popularromanceso00huntuoft). It's an extremely interesting book.

The story Betty Stogs and Jan the Mounster, which has a bit of a social engineering subtext, tells of Betty, a scruffy, lazy woman given to "courseying" (wandering house-to-house to gossip); in the version collected by Hunt, she allegedly lived near Towednack. She never darns her stockings, but just lets them sag to hide the worn heels. She finds an equally scruffy partner, Jan the Mounster (i.e. monster) who gets her pregnant but refuses to marry her until her father comes up with a dowry. They don't get on because Betty has in addition got a gin habit, can't cook, and tries to wash his watch in dirty dishwater. She's extremely neglectful to her baby, which gets as dirty as its parents. But at a year old, he disappears. After a search, he's found in a thicket, on a bed of moss, wrapped in clean clothing and sprinkled with flowers, spick and span from having been cleansed in the morning dew. The fairies had planned to take him as a changeling, but had taken so long to clean him up that dawn had broken, and they had to leave him behind. Betty and Jan are chastened by the experience, and mend their ways (or at least somewhat). Here's the story, starting page 103, or you can read the 1865 edition at Google Books.

Betty Stogs beer pump logo
Beer drinkers will recognise Betty from her incarnation as Skinner's Brewery's' "Queen of Cornish Beer"; their flagship beer is named after her. I didn't realise until Googling her name last week that she was based on a folklore character. Skinner's  has adopted her in both her original scruffy incarnation with wrinkled socks, and in her cleaned-up version in which she has become something of a force of nature, represented by the brewery at festivals and charity fundraisers in true mumming / folk custom fashion as a burly man - former Cornish-style wrestling champion Fred Thomas - in drag.

Skinner's promotional poster
I especially like the style of the new promotional poster by by Nick Berringer and Stuart Thorn, "intended to emphasise the ale’s origins as Betty remains devoutly Cornish while exploring the big wide world", in which the now-slightly-genteel Betty goes to a posh restaurant, but still has beer and a giant Cornish pasty. They promise more. See the Skinner's events page for details.

- Ray

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Haslehust Mystery Painting #2

Three years ago - see EW Haslehust ... and artfight! - I mentioned the work of Ernest William Haslehust (1855-1949), a watercolourist who specialised in slightly prettified, but nevertheless skilful and evocative, paintings of English landscapes and townscapes. His work was a mainstay of Blackie & Sons' classic Beautiful England series.

Holly Daniel has just sent me an image  of a 16" by 48" painting acquired at a Californian junk store, signed EW Haslehust. She asks if anyone has any thoughts on where it might be.

As you can see, it depicts a tidal estuary with hills. Haslehust usually painted southern English scenes, but not invariably; he also went to Cumbria and Scotland on occasion. I don't known enough about boats, but the sail shape might give a clue, and also (in this detail) the style of the lady's hat.

click to enlarge
Anyhow, here's the full picture:

raw image - click to enlarge
I had a go at correcting the image for the known aspect ratio and the general fading:

click to enlarge
I have to say that I don't rule out the possibility of this being painted by someone else, with a bogus signature; the skill and precision don't seem up to Haslehust's familiar works from the Beautiful England series. Then again, this is an oil painting, and he normally worked in watercolours - perhaps it was a very early work, and/or he was just less adept in this medium.

If you haven't already, you might also like to look at an earlier post, Haslehust mystery painting, which puts up another unknown Haslehust painting - that one of an English cottage - for identification.

- Ray

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Flooding by the Clyst

View Larger Map

On the great scale of things - hurricanes, tsunamis - this isn't much to complain about, but over the last couple of days the English Westcountry has had significant rainfall leading to flooding. The local manifestation has been flooding of the fields on the lower flood plain of the River Clyst between Topsham and Dart's Farm (see Google Maps above) and closure of the Exmouth Road (A376) that crosses it. A few photos: sorry about the dismal cast, but it was getting toward dusk on a very overcast day.

Some twit thought they could get through ...

And this is why we don't build on flood plains unless we're stupid.

There's wider coverage on various news sites, including that of the Exeter Express & Echo: Disruption and transport problems in Devon as wind batters region. As I said, effects here aren't exactly devastating, but it's certainly out of the ordinary.

- Ray

Monday, 19 November 2012

Alexander Herzen in Ventnor

I apologise for this being a thoroughly second-hand post, but following blog references led in a pleasant direction.

Sydney Padua's always excellent 2D Googles just cited an 1840 letter by Thomas Carlyle to his younger brother John Aitken Carlyle, containing a complimentary description of the Isle of Wight as place to spend the winter months.
Your Weymouth Letter reached me yesterday. If you accomplished your purpose for Sunday, getting to Lymington as you proposed, you must have ample means to be in Ryde at your journey's end before this reach you. I fancy you to be there perhaps even now. It gives me no little satisfaction to consider that your wandering is now over, and has settled you for a space of rest in a corner so near me. I imagine Wight to be the elegiblest of all places for passing these dim months;—not enveloped in fog, drizzle, and glar [mud], as we here; but with a fresh sea round you, with glimpses of blue sky, and some constant evidence that this Earth and her Seasons still exist.
- TC TO JOHN A. CARLYLE, Chelsea, Tuesday, 24 Novr / 1840— The Carlyle Letters Online
Googling around this took me serendipitously to a blog post In Herzen’s footsteps: a visit to Ventnor by Sarah J Young, a lecturer in Russian at the UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies. It concerns the author's visit to Ventnor in the process of researching the mid-1850s stay in Ventnor of Alexander Ivanovich Herzen ("a Russian pro-Western writer and thinker known as the father of Russian socialism and one of the main fathers of agrarian populism" - Wikipedia). The whole account is rather cool, not least for the inclusion of sketches of Ventnor by one of the Herzen entourage, Malwida von Meysenbug.

One shows St Augustine Villa, where Herzen stayed (my photo for comparison) ...

St Augustine Villa, Ventnor, 1855, Malwida von Meysenbug
Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative works 2.0
England and Wales License
Ventnor, October 2010, Ray Girvan, public domain image

Ventnor, Chalet Hotel, 1954 - scan of postcard: click to enlarge

... and the other shows the coastline looking eastward toward Ventnor (again, I found a photo of my own, this one from May 2012):

Coast near Ventnor, by Malwida von Meysenbug, 1855
Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative works 2.0
England and Wales License

Coast near Ventnor, Ray Girvan, May 2012, public domain image
- Ray

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Just chatting

Clare, who's researching World War One topics, just drew my attention to this article: Of Lice and Men: Trench Fever and Trench Life in the A.I.F. by Dr. M. Geoffrey Miller.

It's a good article in itself, but one that also leads into a wealth of superb material. Up one level, and you get to The Medical Front, a compendium of texts on "all medical aspects, military and civilian, of the Great War". And this is just part of the GWDPA: the Great War Primary Document Archive, whose intention is "to present in one location both primary and relevant secondary documents between 1890-1930".

However, returning to Of Lice and Men, one point of interest was the reference to "chats" and "chatting" ...
There are three varieties of lice; head lice, or 'nits', (pediculus capitis), pubic lice, or 'crabs', (Phthirius pubis), and body lice, or 'chats' (pediculus corporis)
Accordingly the soldiers had to attempt to remove the lice as best they could. This removal, a procedure known as "chatting up" was usually by hand, picking out the lice from the clothes, or with the flame from lighted candles run up and down the seams of the clothes. (This was the origin of the verb "to chat" as the soldiers made the removal of their lice into a social event).
... and part of this rang etymological alarm bells with us both.

"Chat" for "louse" is fine. I suspected it might be Anglo-Indian, but it turns out not:
1699 B. E. New Dict. Canting Crew, Chatts, lice.
1725 in New Canting Dict.
1819 J. H. Vaux New Vocab. Flash Lang. in Mem., Chats, lice.
- Oxford English Dictionary
"Chatting up" checks out likewise, as a couple of contemporary references show:
Then they gave us hot water and soap and a clean towel, and told us to go to it. This was an advancing signal-corps company that was chatting up after the retreating Boche.
- The Literary Digest, Volume 59, page 42, 1918
"Chatting-up," searching for " them " by divesting oneself of tunic, shirt and even breeches. This informal parade used to take place frequently among the men in the trenches during the summer months.
- The Athenaeum, 1919 
But the statement that this is the origin of the verb "to chat" is completely untrue. "Chat" goes back to Middle English in a couple of similar obsolete senses, but even the modern sense dates back to the 1500s.
3. intr. To talk in a light and informal manner; to converse familiarly and pleasantly.
1551 R. Robinson tr. T. More Vtopia sig. ✠viiv, I muste commen with my wife, chatte with my chyldren, and talke wyth my seruantes.
- Oxford English Dictionary
"Chatting up" in the delousing sense, by the way, has no connection with the modern sense of "flirting with". The OED's first citation for this sense is much later, and seems to be a modern development, first cited to the 1960s, on an obsolete meaning of "chat" equivalent to "chat up".
1916  C. J. Dennis, Songs Sentimental Bloke 19, I tried to chat 'er, like you'd make a start Wiv any tart.
- Oxford English Dictionary
- Ray

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

A Vision in a Dream. A Fragment

I just had to share this. The night before last, I was feeling pretty fretful in the small hours with joint pains from the chemotherapy, so eventually gave in and took a couple of co-codamols (what they call "Tylenol 1" in the USA). They clearly worked, because I woke up around 3pm - but with vague recollections of an interminable dream of being at a pub quiz for hours on end. I remember two of the questions:
  • In what sport is the Leaping Grand Cheval tackle permitted?
  • On what classical symphony is the song "The Elephant's Covered in Skin" based?
Not exactly Coleridge. I think I'll stick to ibuprofen in future ...

- Ray

PS  Cautiously good news in respect of all this. See the 14th November 2012 update to It ain't that kind.

Monday, 12 November 2012

A Chartreuse mystery

I love the way the Internet often brings to the surface dimly-remembered things. I remember from around 1970 coveting a very pretty book about optics in the school library. I can remember nothing about it except that it had interesting colour plates, and a reference to unusual colour properties of Green Chartreuse liqueur.

Google finally traced it: Colours and how we see them (Hamilton Hartridge, Bell & Sons, London, 1949). There are some scans at Chris Mullen's The Visual Telling of Stories website (which has a wealth of material on colour, and more) and one of the plates - shown above - illustrates the Chartreuse as red in the bottle, green in the glass. The actual book - a write-up of Hartridge's Royal Institution Christmas Lectures 1946-47 - looks readily findable, but I was more interested in having traced the detail I remembered, which refers to this optical phenomenon called dichroism (a material having different colours under different lighting conditions):
This change of colour with thickness of solution is known as the 'Chartreuse Effect', because it was first noticed in connection with the famous liqueur which was manufactured by the Carthusian monks. When in the flagon the liqueur is a deep ruby red; when poured out into the glass it is a brilliant emerald green. Nothing could be better than to actually use the liqueur itself for demonstration purposes, but this may not be easy.
It easn't easy, and is actually a bit of a mystery, because I'm familiar with Chartreuse liqueur (you can readily find images online) and I've never seen any sign of it displaying this red-green dichroic effect. It's green in both the bottle and glass.

Nor do there appear to be any references to this "Chartreuse effect" except in Hartridge and a handful of later optics books - such as Frederick W Clulow's 1972 Colour: its principles and their applications - that I'd bet money just recycled the factoid from Hartridge. Have the Carthusians changed the recipe since he wrote about it? Was he simply mistaken? Or could he even have invented the observation? I raise this option becase his 1976 obituary in the British Journal of Opthalmology mentions his work as:
"Director of the Vision Research Unit ... set up to give Hartridge a chance to test the polychromatic theory of colour vision which he had promulgated with few real experiments but many publications ... From this point of view, the venture was a predictable disaster"
So, can anyone shed any light on this claimed property of Chartreuse?

So we know what we're talking about, here's a household example: a Fairy detergent liquitab, whose content shows a very nice dichroism, from green by transmitted light, changing to deep blue by reflected light.

A more celebrated example is the Lycurgus Cup, a late Roman glass goblet which, due to the presence of colloidal gold and silver, is olive-green when viewed under normal circumstances by reflected light, but wine-red by transmitted light. See The Lycurgus Cup - A Roman Nanotechnology (Freestone, Meeks, Sax and Higgitt, Gold Bulletin, 4, 4, London, World Gold Council, 2007).

Lycurgus Cup - images from Wikipedia
Addendum, 7th Oct 2013. A few days back, the quiz and general knowledge programme QI mentioned this effect. It featured an experiment, credited to Dr Alice Bowen, showing the creation of a cocktail comprising equal parts of the liqueur Blue Curaçao, clear cranberry juice, and lemonade. It displayed a strong red-blue dichroism. This'll probably be online soon.

- Ray

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Bournemouth in fiction

It may be of interest to some readers if I elaborate on the references in the previous post to pre-1915 novels mentioning Bournemouth (not necessarily as a central setting). Apart from a couple of major players like Thomas Hardy, it's a catalogue of little-known and forgotten authors and works.
... Tess of the D'Urbervilles contains one of the most picturesque and accurate descriptions of Bournemouth. It is perhaps most fully depicted in Adrian Savage by Lucas Malet, and is visited and described in Allward by E.S. Stevens, Sinister Street by Compton Mackenzie, The Seamy Side by Besant and Rice, Jill-all-Alone by Rita, and in Tracked Down by Headon Hill. It is further seen in W. B. Maxwell's war-time romance A Man and his Lesson. Among other recent novels in which Bournemouth appears are: The Race Before Us, Guy Thorne; Zitta Sees Herself (Boscombe), E. M. Delafield; The Sins Ye Do, Emmeline Morrison; A Bit of Blue Stone, Maxwell Gray; Tyranny, Holloway Horn; Ring Up the Curtain, J.C. Nevill; Barbara Justice, Diana Patrick; Blinkers, H.A. Vachell; Mr. Justice Maxell, Edgar Wallace.
- A Pictorial and Descriptive Guide to Bournemouth, Poole, Christchurch, Avon Valley, Salisbury, Winchester and The New Forest Covering the Years 1914/15, Ward Locke guide
  • Bournemouth appears in Hardy's 1893 Tess of the D'Urbervilles as the fashionable Sandbourne, where Tess takes up residence as Alec's mistress, and cuts his throat.
  • Lucas Malet was the pseudonym of the novelist Mary St Leger Kingsley, Charles Kingsley's daughter; her 1911 Adrian Savage takes place in  Paris and Bournemouth (as Stourmouth).
  • Bournemouth (as Bournesmouth) and the Christchurch area feature as the setting of ES (Ethel Stefana) Stevens' 1915 Allward: A Story of Gypsy Life.
  • The 1913 Sinister Street (Volume 1 / Volume 2) is Sir Compton Mackenzie's bildungsroman about the coming of age of two illegimate siblings born of rich parents.  
  • The Seamy Side (1889? by Walter Besant and James Rice) portrays a Bournemouth created as "a colony of invalids"
They were not "mere brick-and-mortar speculators" who built Bournemouth ; no, rather they were sickness-and-mortality speculators, and the result of their speculations is pictured for us in The Seamy Side, by Besant and Rice
Seaside England, Ruth Manning-Sanders - 1951
  • Jill-all-Alone by "Rita" (Mrs W. Desmond Humphreys, née" Eliza M. J. Gollan) I have little about:
Jill grew up alone in the woods a free spirit, then the squire desires her. He is foiled, but Jill dies.
- Novels in English by women, 1891-1920: a preliminary checklist, 1981
  • Tracked Down is a 1902 crime novel by the novelist clergyman Francis Grainger (aka Headon Hill).
  • The 1919 A Man and his Lesson is by William Babington Maxwell, novelist son of Mary Elizabeth Braddon.; it concerns a successful dramatist and barrister, who learns a lesson about life from being torn between love for two women. 
  • Guy Thorne's 1910 The Race Before Us is a polemical novel attacking the degeneracy of the aristocratic classes; it begins with the murder of a nobleman by high-frequency current in a Bournemouth quack hydropathic clinic.
  • The 1917 Zella Sees Herself (out of interest, written in Exeter) was the strongly autobiographical first novel by Edmée Elizabeth Monica Dashwood (aka EM Delafield), best known for her Devon-set Diary of a Provincial Lady.
  • I haven't been able to find anything much about Emmeline Morrison's 1923 The Sins Ye Do, except that it was a romance adapted for film in 1924.
  • Holloway Horn's 1922 Tyranny is a male-written polemical melodrama of Catholic angst, concerning a young Irish woman called Gwenda, who despite having had many lovers via her job as a stenographer and chauffeuse, finds her Catholic upbringing makes it impossible for her to marry the one who really does it for her, a divorced man.
  • Ring Up the Curtain (1920) by John Craunston Nevill was described by The Spectator as " a very entertaining theatrical novel of the type more or less originated by Mr. Compton Mackenzie".
  • The plot of the 1921 Blinkers: A Romance Of The Preconceived Idea by Horace Annesley Vachell, is described by the 1921 American Library Association catalogue as "The heroine has been brought up to see life honestly instead of through 'blinkers; and this honesty brings her safely through disillusionment to ultimate happiness".

- Ray

A Bit of Blue Stone

Bournemouth, the Square and Gardens from Mount Dore
EM Haslehust, 1915. Wikimedia Commons
A bit of a milestone; further to the previous two posts, I just finished Maxwell Gray's final published work, the title story of her 1923 collection A Bit of Blue Stone.

The story A Bit of Blue Stone (dated 1922) is set largely in Bournemouth in the closing years of World War One, a romance between two people whose lives have been blighted by the war.

In a warm September, Lancelot Hughes, a young serviceman on leave from the front, largely recovered from a wound and shell-shock, is visiting Bournemouth to see his mother herself convalescent from overwork as a VAD nurse, and his more seriously traumatised brother George, permanently discharged after the loss of an eye and severe shell-shock. Lancelot and his mother's conversations turn to an idyllic time they remember, a family outing to Alum Bay, Isle of Wight, where Lancelot was attracted to a girl called Violet Kendal who they'd helped when she dislocated her ankle.

To Lancelot's surprise and pleasure, he encounters the now older Violet, who is staying with her Aunt Maria and cousin Rose. The two families become acquainted, and conversation turns to George, whose doctor considers to have a delusion of being jilted due to his disfigurement. Rose reacts strangely to this - evidently she did he a friendship with George - and the receipt of a letter reveals the truth: that George's jealous officer In France, a failed suitor of Rose, had withheld the correspondence between the two. Rose and George are reunited. Lancelot and Violet also find themselves in love; but Lancelot has to return to the front, and leaves with Violet his "mascot", a chunk of blue stone given him by another soldier whose life he saved, for safe keeping.

Lancelot eventually returns to Bournemouth a year after the end of the war, but after initial delight at being reunited, it appears increasingly that his feelings toward Violet have cooled. This turns out not to be the case; the problem is that Violet's father, Colonel Kendal, has forbidden their marriage due to Lancelot's circumstances. His medical history - shell-shock and "heart strain" - is limiting his job prospects, and coupled with a general decline in family fortunes (including the need to help George and Rose) his only option is a job overseas, which is bound to be detrimental to his health. Regretfully, he says marriage is not an option.

After Lancelot leaves, Violet becomes curious about the "mascot" Lancelot still has left with her. It's wrapped in a sheet of paper saying "Try Sparkes" (a London jeweller) and as she's in the process of helping Mrs Hughes sell some jewellery to bankroll Lancelot's travel overseas to his job, she suggests to him that it might be an asset worth selling. He agrees. Rose goes to the Charing Cross shop, and rapidly finds that the "bit of blue stone" is a large uncut diamond from the Kimberley mines, and an American customer at Sparkes, Josiah P Goldridge, is prepared to buy it for thousands of pounds.

This alters everything. Lancelot needn't go overseas. He can afford to complete his interrupted Oxford studies and have enough left over to provide a starting income; Colonel Kendal retracts his objections. Violet and Lancelot meet again in Bournemouth, and sail off into the sunset, presumably to the Isle of Wight. Mrs Hughes, watching them depart, says, "They are going to the Land of Heart's Desire."

View Larger Map - Bournemouth front as described by MG: pan left and zoom for the
Isle of Wight (in distance), pan right for Purbeck Hills.

To some extent, A Bit of Blue Stone is predictable. The blue stone's titular presence makes it pretty certain to have some plot significance, which ultimately amounted to a deus ex machina that bailed the main characters out of all their problems. But it is a very nice evocation of the landscape of Bournemouth, with its chines and its views of Purbeck and the Isle of Wight, in a distinctive era when it was a significant centre for wartime convalescence: see, for instance, Bournemouth Town Hall (formerly the Mont Dore Hotel). It's also rather nice to see an upbeat ending to Maxwell Gray's works, which toward toward the end of her life had become at best wistful, and at worst embittered and reactionary.

Check out the 1915 Blackie guide Bournemouth, Poole & Christchurch (Sidney Heath, illust. EM Haslehust, Internet Archive ID bournemouthpoole00heatrich) for a nice illustrated account of Bournemouth at the time of A Bit of Blue Stone.

I don't know if MG had visited Bournemouth at the time - as an invalid, she well could have. But it's well possible she could have consulted the Ward Locke guide A Pictorial and Descriptive Guide to Bournemouth, Poole, Christchurch, Avon Valley, Salisbury, Winchester and The New Forest Covering the Years 1914/15. It's not online, but I was interested to recover a snippet suggesting it to be a popular location for authors at the time, many of the titles suggesting that (like pre-war Brighton in Brighton Rock) that it had a considerably seamy side:
... Tess of the D'Urbervilles contains one of the most picturesque and accurate descriptions of Bournemouth. It is perhaps most fully depicted in Adrian Savage by Lucas Malet, and is visited and described in Allward by E.S. Stevens, Sinister Street by Compton Mackenzie, The Seamy Side by Besant and Rice, Jill-all-Alone by Rita, and in Tracked Down by Headon Hill. It is further seen in W. B. Maxwell's war-time romance A Man and his Lesson. Among other recent novels in which Bournemouth appears are: The Race Before Us, Guy Thorne; Zitta Sees Herself (Boscombe), E. M. Delafield; The Sins Ye Do, Emmeline Morrison; A Bit of Blue Stone, Maxwell Gray; Tyranny, Holloway Horn; Ring Up the Curtain, J.C. Nevill; Barbara Justice, Diana Patrick; Blinkers, H.A. Vachell; Mr. Justice Maxell, Edgar Wallace.
For me, it's not the end of the Maxwell Gray story. I've finished the planned task of reading her major book works chronologically. But she was not just a novelist; there are many more articles and poems in magazines and journals. The project continues...