Wednesday, 26 November 2014

The Kestyns of Cather Castle

Further to the brief comment in Carisbrooke Castle #1, I just checked out Robey F Eldridge's 1897 The Kestyns of Cather Castle, a novel by an Isle of Wight author, which turns out to be available as a PDF from the British Library.

There are full biographical details of Robey Frank Eldridge (1843-1930) - a Newport solicitor and small-town politician - in CJ Arnell's Poets of the Wight (see page 243 onwards). He wrote one other novel, the 1899 The Scheming of Agatha Kenrick; the 1898 religious short Jerry: A Sunday-school Story. (published by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge); Our Padre (a verse collection, 1918); and, as you can see in Poets of the Wight, some rather indifferent poetry on very conventional themes.

The Kestyns of Cather Castle is a weighty saga of an ill-starred family, and it begins with a suitably ominous “dark and stormy night” introduction:
A wild night. Pandemonium broken loose. A war of the elements. The flood-gates of heaven opened, and the deluge of waters, driven hither and thither by furious winds, beating down upon the storm-rent earth.
    Confusion and tumult without as the tempest dashed madly against the unyielding ramparts of the grand old castle, that from the vantage ground of a rising hill had for centuries frowned defiance on all assailants.
    How it mocked the violence of those rushing blasts! Yet how little it availed to protect those within the shelter of its massive walls.
    For, as though borne to earth upon the winds of the storm, heralded by the lightning flash and the thunder roll, came the dread messenger of death.
    A mother, young and lovely in the tender grace of her matronly beauty, was giving her life for that of her babes.
    A lurid light had shone out from the western sky, and the rumblings of the storm were already in the air, when, as the sun was setting, the had raised the flag to proclaim, far and wide, the birth of a daughter of the House, that from the earliest feudal times had owned that ancient castle.
    The wind blew a hurricane and the tempest was at its height when, a little later, an old retainer, striving in vain to reach the flagstaff on that topmost tower, so that another flag might tell of the birth of a twin-brother, was caught by the furious gale and driven with crushing force against the battlements, receiving injuries that left him a cripple for life.
    The night slowly wore itself on, and in the early morning, as the first streaks of dawn tinged the distant horizon with glowing colour, the mother passed away.
    The tempest had spent its force, and a calm, deep and profound, had succeeded. And again the tower was ascended to lower the flag, so that flying at half-mast it might make known to all the tragic story of death.
    But the raging wind had shattered the strong staff, and the flag lay at its foot.
    And on the flag, staining it with blood, was lying a bird, with plumage black and glossy as a ravena bird maimed and wounded, with broken beak and wing. Dashed, as it had evidently been by the frightful force of the raging wind, against the staff, it was, even as they found it, in the throes of death.

Such was the story of Rupert Kestyn’s birth.
Not a good start... Cather Castle is described as being "in one of the northern counties", but its description, for instance ...
A fine old gateway flanked by two enormous towers, gives entrance to the quadrangle in the centre of the castle.
... is thoroughly applicable to Carisbrooke Castle, and it's hard not to see echoes of the Carisbrooke placename Clatterford in the name of the adjacent village "Catherford".

The Isle of Wight County Press had a brief comment to the effect that Maxwell Gray liked it ...
Our readers will be interested to hear that “Maxwell Gray,” the author of “The Silence of Dean Maitland,” has expressed a very high opinion of Mr. Robery F. Eldridge’s new novel, “The Kestyns of Cather Castle.” She says she has read it with great pleasure, and she predicts that it will be popular with many readers. The diction, she adds, is remarkably good; the description of the ancient city of Sethora is extremely fascinating; and the story gives proof throughout of much imaginative power.
- Town and Country Notes,  IWCP, Saturday, May 1, 1897, page 5, (reproduced as fair usage, Isle of Wight County Press Archive 
... and I found a couple of full reviews.
“The Kestyns of Cather Castle.”
Not content with being a member of the Isle of Wight County Council, a Justice of the Peace, and an ex-Mayor and leading soli.citor of Newport, Mr, Robey F. Eldridge has looked round for other worlds to conquer. The world of romance has attracted his eye, and he has entered it armed with a novel of formidable proportions entitled “The Kestyns of Cather Castle.” Messrs. Digby, Long, and Co., of 18, Bouverie-street, Fleet-street, E.C., are the publishers of the work, which leaves nothing to be desired in point of printing and binding. The publishers have done their duty to the author, a she has done his duty to the reader. For the book is a very readable one, full of imagination and variety, as a well-written romance should be. If the author has a fault it is that he errs too much on the side of elaboration, explaining motives rather than allowing them to be inferred from action, and to that end lavishing the introspective faculty somewhat too freely among his characters. From this point of view, readers who like a romantic story to swing breathlessly along may be found urging that the 510 pages of the book might with advantage have been condensed into, say 300. There is still plenty of action in it; tragedy, comedy, lovemaking and adventureall of there, supplemented by graphics descriptions of places and scenery. The plot turns on the mystery of heredity and destiny, as exemplified in the modern representatives of the ancient and noble family of the Kestyns. There is a legend in the family that a terrible curse rests on one of its members in each generation, and that the birth of a “wicked Kestyn” is heralded by ominous portents. The story opens with the ushering into the world of a twin son and daughter to Sir Alfred Kestyn, their birth being attended by omens which are regarded by the superstitious characters in the book as being of the direst import. How far these omens are justified by the development of the story we will leave the author himself to tell, merely remarking that bloodshed and horror attend the career of one of the twins to its terrible close. This tracing out of destiny or coincidenceaccording as one views itin the history of the latest of the “wicked Kestyns” constitutes the tragedy of the book. Its humour, love-making, and adventure are not so concentrated on any particular character. Mr. Eldridge needs a large stage for his puppets, since they are numerous, and now and again he gives us a rapid and complete change of scene. At one stage of the story most of the characters are assembled together in the ruined city of Sethora, whose mysterious shrines and caverns, now deserted save for a holy brotherhood of monks which has taken up its abode among them, form a fitting background for the striking scenes there enacted. Death is freely dealt out in the course of the story, and the love-making is so extensive that no fewer than eight of the principal characters are happily mated to each other before the end of the book is reached.

One more word about the book. Its tone is healthy, and it may be placed with confidence in the hands of the most innocent girl.
- AN ISLAND NOVELIST, Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle etc (Portsmouth, England), Saturday, May 15, 1897; Issue 6035.
The  Athenaeum review is a lot more scathing (my late friend Felix Grant, who liked deliciously hostile reviews, would have enjoyed this one):
The Kestyns of Cather Castle. By Robey F. Eldridge. (Digby, Long & Co.)
This is a tale of youth and love, but there is neither laugh nor smile from gloomy cover to gloomy cover. The shadows of fate hang black round the ill-omened family of Kestyn; portents, and omens, and prophecies all conspire to its undoing. It is a very, very long book, all written with the heart's blood, and with the sad result that it is wearisome and fatiguing. Not that there are not good ideas in it—there are many; but the writer does not know how to write a novel—does not even appear to know that there is an art of storytelling. It is a long, diffuse, badly written tale, -without construction of any sort, without charm, without light and shadow. Yet these gloomy Kestyns have a certain life and personality. The wretched Netta is far from being a badly conceived character, and in the hands of a master this hag-ridden, unhappy girl might have appeared a fine creation. But in these days it is rare to find a tale told so drearily, and we fear that few will be the highcouraged readers who will follow the family of Kestyn through 510 closely printed pages. Yet the book is not common; it shows no facility, but it has something in it; only we question whether the thoughtfulness and observation which make that something are wisely spent in writing tales. Books such as this drain the vitality of the writer, and only when he has genius can they bring him any compensation. Worse books may have success; this and its like are doomed to failure, for such merits as they have are buried under a mountain of cumbrous verbosity, and the thought, care, industry, and perseverance lavished on them could hardly be less profitably employed. 'The Kestyns of Cather Castle' is the strongest argument we have met in favour of a school of fiction. It is grievous to feel how utterly and completely it has failed through the author's ignorance of the first principles of his craft.
- The Athenaeum, No. 3628, May 8, 1897
The Kestyns of Cather Castle (Digby, Long and Co, 1897) can be read at, or downloaded from, the British Library website: BLL01014809881 (click I want this for links to the PDF viewer options).

I haven't been able to find Eldridge's other works online, but there are some reviews of The Scheming of Agatha Kenrick, which is a melodrama about a woman embittered by her husband's suicide.
The chief feature of this book consists in the effort the author makes to show the marvellous power which a strong-minded woman can exercise over others. Agatha Kenrick and her husband are introduced to the reader in a very tragic manner. It is at the gaming saloon of Monte Carlo. Reginald and Agatha have gambled away every farthing they possessed in the world. He has run through her fortune as well as his own, and in almost a frenzy of excitement the pair return to their hotel. He is a poor specimen of a man, and after some bitterly insulting reproaches to his wife, he hurries out of the hotel and shoots himself, just as his wife receives a letter informing them that a lottery ticket she has purchased has taken the first prize, thereby placing riches again within their grasp. But all Agatha’s passionate love for her husband has been extinguished by this coward’s mode of exit from “a sea of troubles,” leaving her to face the world alone. She is a handsome woman, “with all the voluptuous, sensuous beauty which mean find so enamouring,” but is of a passionate nature, and she has given her whole love to a man who has proved unworthy of it. Agatha rises from her first outbreak of grief a different woman. In her subsequent career she is pourtrayed [sic] as clever, unprincipled, and revengeful. Her early life has been embittered, and she takes a pleasure in wrecking the lives of others, and this she succeeds in doing. The central figure of the story is Ruby Saxton, a weak-minded but beautiful girl, who has lost her first husband. Over her Agatha obtains considerable influence, and out of revenge for a Dr. Langley’s refusing her advance, Mrs. Kenrick is successful in bringing about a marriage between the doctor and Ruby, knowing that it is bound to prove an unhappy union. And she has the miserable satisfaction of watching the troubles in the lives  of her victims. But the great point of a somewhat too long story is the very clever manner in which Mr. Eldridge delineates the various types of character he introduces. The novel is well written, and interests the reader throughout.
- BOOKS AND BOOKMEN, Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle etc (Portsmouth, England), Saturday, May 20, 1899; Issue 6139. 
Generally, reviewers seem not to have thought much of it.
“The Scheming of Agatha Kenrick” … is one of the novels of which it is difficult to see the reason for their being written. This particular novel is neither better nor worse than scores more novels of brisk dialogue and involved sentiment, and though readable enough has not a strong page in it. The tale is wholesome, and here and there lively, but one lays it down without pronounced opinions of any kind about it.
LITERARY NOTICES, The Sheffield & Rotherham Independent (Sheffield, England), Friday, May 12, 1899; pg. 2; Issue 13884. 19th Century British Library Newspapers: Part II
The Scheming of Agatha Kenrick, by Robert F. Eldridge [sic], is an overwrought work of fiction. The heroine, or rather the female villain, is a monstrosity born of the author's imagination. Still, there is some really clever description in the book. If Mr. Eldridge were more natural and unaffected he might do much better work.
- The Westminster Review, 1899

In his new story Mr. Eldridge provides us with many of the elements which go to the making of old-fashioned melodrama. There is the hysterical, totally uninteresting heroine, the victim of a scheming adventuress and of two ill-considered marriages. There are also the obdurate father, the good and the bad sister (the latter by far the most promising character in the book), the stern husband, and, of course, Agatha Kenrick herself, the villain of the piece. "We note suicide, murder, and sudden death sufficient with better handling to fill the stage of the Adelphi, where perhaps the grandeur of the language employed and the mawkishness of the sentiments might arouse a smile. As it is, nothing but profound weariness can accrue to the average reader of any education after a perusal of these many and closely printed pages. Nothing but immense relief can be felt by the same when Mrs. Kenrick, after much needless delay, at length chooses an Alpine height as the scene in which to "immolate herself in the sight of all Europe." Marriages, as is only proper in such a story, abound, and there are an infinite number of side situations and characters which have little or nothing to do with the plot. At the same time it is a book which, issued in - a humbler form, might appeal to quite a large class of readers. Produced in a series of novelettes, for which there is ample material in this one volume, it might, one imagines, delight the hearts of many third-class railway passengers, without in any way impairing their morals.
- The Athenaeum, 1899
The Isle of Wight County Press was naturally more complimentary, the reviewer probably being an acquaintance of the author.
I have been reading Mr. Robey Eldridge’s new novel, “The Scheming of Agatha Kenrick.” How delightful for the author to be able thus to escape from the engrossments of the law and the dreariness of County Council routine! What a relief to get away from Gurnard annexation questions and wander at will in that enchanted region of romance which no grasping Council can ever selfishly appropriate! I had an impression that Mr. Eldridge won his spurs as an author with his “Kestyns of Cather Castle,” but if he did not quite compass the achievement then, he has done it now with “Agatha Kenrick.” I do not like that lady, and I do not suppose that anybody outside Whitecroft * will like her; but all must admit that the character is drawn and sustained with great power. I have no claim to pose as a critic, but it seems to me that in imagination and characterisation Mr. Eldridge conspicuously excels, and I metaphorically raise my hat to him as one who has made a notable and welcome addition to the literary associations of the Isle of Wight.
- Casual Jottings, IWCP, Saturday, June 24, 1899 , page 5 (reproduced as fair usage, Isle of Wight County Press Archive 
* Whitecroft was the Mental Hospital near Newport.

I don't know anything about Jerry: A Sunday-school Story, but the book cover (left, found at suggests it's about an ill/dying child.

- Ray

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