Thursday, October 29, 2015

Old Bestsellers: The Count's Millions, by Émile Gaboriau

Old Bestsellers: The Count's Millions, by Émile Gaboriau

a brief review by Rich Horton

This is, I think, one of the happier and more unexpected discoveries I've made prowling book sales and antique stores for forgotten old books. I found this volume at the annual charity book sale at West County Mall in St. Louis County, the Greater St. Louis Book Fair. I had never heard of the author, but the book looked potentially interesting.

My edition is from Scribner's, published in 1913. Good condition, no DJ. Illustrated by John Sloan. Inscribed on the flyleaf "Dan R. Bissell, Jr., Xmas 1913".

I looked into Émile Gaboriau and found that he was actually a rather well known French writer in the middle of the 19th Century. He was born in 1832, died in 1873. He started publishing novels no later than 1861, and made a splash in 1866 with L'Affaire Lerouge, his first novel to feature Monsieur Lecoq, a detective. Gaboriau wrote several more novels about Lecoq, who was a very popular character, perhaps the most popular detective character prior to Sherlock Holmes. He died (of apoplexy, oddly enough the same way a major character in the novel at hand dies) aged only 40, but according to Wikipedia his novels kept appearing until at least 1881, leading me to suspect that perhaps the Lecoq series was continued by another writer. The Count's Millions appeared in 1870. (It is not a detective novel.)

The story opens with the rather unpleasant servants of the Count de Chalusse awaiting their master's return, one night in the 1860s. (Dates are given as 186-.) But a cabdriver comes to the house, announcing that his passenger has had a fit ... he is brought into the house, still alive, but in much distress. A doctor is summoned who can do little, and the vigil begins, attended by his ward, the beautiful 18 year old Marguerite, and by the grasping set of servants.

We quickly learn that Marguerite is a mysterious girl -- she only showed up a couple of years previously, and most assume she is the Count's illegitimate daughter but there is no proof. And a whole raft of people are soon snooping around, most interested in somehow getting their hands on the Count's "millions". There is the Marquis de Valorsay, a scoundrel who has squandered his money and needs to marry a rich heiress. There is Isidore Fortunat, a rascally businessman who has been helping Valorsay keep up the pretense of solvency while he tries to persuade Chalusse to let him marry Marguerite. There is the General de Fondege, who wants Marguerite for his son. The servants want their share of the estate. Much depends on whether or not the Count survives -- for there is no will, and if Marguerite is not shown to actually be his daughter, she will get nothing -- a blow to Valorsay, and indeed to Fortunat, who hatches a back up scheme: perhaps he can find Chalusse's long-estranged sister and represent her in an attempt to receive what would be her rightful inheritance.

Finally we are introduced to an industrious young lawyer, Pascal Ferailleur. Unlike everyone else we've met (save Marguerite), he seems a genuinely good person: a hard worker, raised by a mother who was cheated of her husband's money after his untimely death, Pascal has become a fairly successful lawyer. But he makes a terrible mistake: he accompanies a friend to a gambling house run by the beautiful middle-aged Lia d'Argelès, where he has a run of luck. But suddenly he is accused of cheating ... and there seems to be proof. Of course, as we have already gathered, Pascal's "friend" was actually a scoundrel hired by Valorsay to ruin him by planting evidence of cheating. And why? That's easy to guess -- Pascal has fallen in love with a young woman, none other than Marguerite, and the Marquis must get him out of the way.

And so it continues, with continued recomplications. We learn of Marguerite's difficult life before the Count found her and took her in. We learn of the reason for the Count's break with his sister: she had a foolish love affair, eloped, and was abandoned. We meet a vile couple running a little grocery, who turn out to have had a previous connection with the Count. Pascal plans to go into hiding while trying to recover his good name. Marguerite rejects the advances of the likes of Valorsay, with only a kindly magistrate to help her. The Count's money has somehow disappeared. And more, and more.

Much of the story is told through the point of view of peripheral characters: the scheming Fortunat, his surprisingly honest assistant Victor Chupin, the Count's servants, especially the slimy housekeeper Madame Leon, the Marquis de Valorsay, and so on. Gaboriau's attitude is throughout quite cynical. He gives details of a variety of marginally legal money-making enterprises. It's not a comedy -- it's a romantic thriller of sorts -- but it is often kind of funny.

And then the end of the book approaches, and it becomes clear that there is no way to resolve all the tangled threads of the plot, and ... the last page announces: "The conclusion of this exciting narrative will be found in the volume called Baron Trigault's Vengeance."

Well, I shouldn't complain -- in the novel was in fact published in two volumes. The full title was La Vie Infernale, with the two parts called Pascal et Margeurite and Lia d'Argelès. I'm not sure why the English titles for the two volumes became The Count's Millions and Baron Trigault's Vengeance. (Though the first chapter is headed "Pascal and Margeurite" in my book -- I thought it just a chapter title but then no other chapters had titles.) I do want to know what happened -- who Marguerite really is, and more about the Count's sister, and how Pascal redeems himself (if indeed he does) ... So I've already ordered the sequel. That's not to overpraise the book -- it's very melodramatic, as should be obvious, and coincidence rules. And the characters are only two-dimensional, but as I said still quite amusing. It's popular fiction of its time -- but pretty good popular fiction of its time.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

A Forgotten Ace Double: Warlord of Kor, by Terry Carr/The Star Wasps, by Robert Moore Williams

Ace Double Reviews, 90: Warlord of Kor, by Terry Carr/The Star Wasps, by Robert Moore Williams (#F-177, 1963, 40 cents)

a review by Rich Horton

Okay, here's another Ace Double. This one qualifies as pretty forgotten, and mostly for good reasons. (Though the covers are, as far as I can tell, by Jack Gaughan, a pretty significant artist.) But it does feature a major major SF figure, Terry Carr. Carr is not widely known as a writer, but he was a hugely significant editor of Science Fiction. He was born in Oregon in 1937, and died terribly young in 1987. He was first a major fanwriter and editor, winning a Hugo for Best Fanzine in 1959 (for Fanac, coedited with Ron Ellik), and another for Best Fanwriter in 1973. He became an editor for Ace Books in the early 1960s, where he was especially known for coediting the World's Best Science Fiction series with Don Wollheim (the most important Best of the Year anthology of its time, the few years following the decline and eventual demise of Judith Merril's iconic series), and for creating the first series of Ace Specials, paperback original novels that included great work such as Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness. He left Ace in about 1971 to go freelance. He continued editing a Best of the Year anthology, for Ballantine/Del Rey, which was, in my perception, the leading such book when I was first buying SF books. He also edited one of the all time great original anthology series, Universe, which ran from 1971 to his death in 1987. In the 1980s he revived the Ace Specials, and published first novels by William Gibson, Kim Stanley Robinson, Michael Swanwick, and Howard Waldrop among others. He won Best Editor Hugos in 1985 and 1987.

Oh, and while he didn't write a whole lot of fiction, some of it was very good, including an admired novel (Cirque (1977)), and such stories as "Hop-friend" (1962), "The Dance of the Changer and the Three" (1968) and "They Live on Levels" (1973). But what of his first two novels? He seems to have mostly repudiated those, both of which were Ace Doubles. One was a collaboration with Ted White, under the name Norman Edwards: Invasion from 2500 (1964). And the other was the book at hand, Warlord of Kor.

In all honesty, Warlord of Kor isn't all that bad, though it's not all that great either. It's pretty short (about 34,000 words), and it's pretty rushed in places. The writing is competent but nowhere special. But the central idea is pretty effective, and the characters are tolerably well done. The working out is only OK. As a first novel, it strikes me as nothing to be ashamed of.

The protagonist is Lee Rynarson, something of an archaeologist who is studying the only intelligent race humans have ever found in their expansion through the Galaxy (or perhaps multiple galaxies). These are the Hirlagi, sort of a horse/dinosaur mix on Hirlaj. There are only 26 Hirlaji surviving -- they seem a tired an decadent race. They have a long racial memory, and Rynarson, in talking with one of them, hears stories of a warlord in the distant past, who united much of the planet, only to decide, after "communing" with the mysterious god Kor, that the Hirlaji must abandon not just war but science.

The situation on Hirlaj is complicated by a local strongman who wants to be named governor of this planet of the "Edge" of human exploration. In addition, there are the relics of the "Outsiders", an ancient race of aliens who have disappeared. Rynarson realizes after some time that the old Hirlaji temples he sees in their memories (once he gains telepathic contact with this mostly telepathic race) resemble Outsider ruins. The other major characters are Mara, the love interest, and an eccentric Earthman who preaches a religion he doesn't believe.

It's all resolved in an overly violent conclusion, revealing the true nature of the god Kor (easily guessed), and hints of the fate of the Outsiders, as well as a resolution to the putative governor's ambitions. As I said, the novel as a whole is nothing special, but it's not terrible either. Nothing I'd recommend making a special effort to find, but a reasonable first effort.

Robert Moore Williams was never for me really a name to conjure with, though I gather his Jongor series of Tarzan derivatives got some notice, and he did receive some praise as well for his early fiction, particularly "Robots Return", from Astounding in 1938, which was included in the all but definitive early SF anthology Adventures in Time and Space. He was born in Farmington, MO (not too terribly far from where I live) in 1907, and died in 1977. He began publishing in the pulps in 1937, and published stories and novels fairly regularly until the early '70s. I don't think he was ever regarded as much beyond a hack, though I'd say the two Ace Doubles I've read by him reveal a writer of some mild ambition and imagination, but not enough talent to make that work.

The Star Wasps (a title I suspect was conferred by Don Wollheim -- the words are never used in the novel) is about 45,000 words long. It's set in a corporately regimented Denver in 2470. The world's economy is controlled by Erasmus Glock, owner of Super Corporation. His childhood acquaintance, John Derek (later the husband of Bo! -- not!) is the leader of a resistance movement, urging people to strive for freedom. As the book opens, Derek turns a corporate flunky, in the process gaining the attention of Glock. He also meets and immediately falls in love with Jennie Fargo.

However, things are complicated by the presence of the "viral", alien electricity creatures who have been unwittingly attracted to Earth by the experiments of a physicist, Joseph Cotter. Glock has been using the viral as some sort of spies, but he loses control of them. The plot follows John Derek and his crew of freed criminals as they try to foment a revolution, but then realize that the viral might be the greater danger. Joseph Cotter and Jennie Fargo end up on the Moon, researching a solution to the viral problem, while John Derek confronts Erasmus Glock with his criminal shortcomings; and things come to a head as the evil blue viral begin killing people indiscriminately. Can Joseph Cotter disover a countermeasure? Can Erasmus Glock be brought to see the error of his ways? Will John Derek and Jennie Fargo get together?

It's a confused and silly mess of a novel. And it's a rampantly sexist novel as well, with a number of passages celebrating a woman's natural desire to be dominated (and cook for) a strong man. But Williams was really, at heart, an ambitious and idealist writer, and there are passages here that show him trying really hard to hit poetic heights, and to make serious philosophic points. Alas, he simply didn't have the talent to pull it off. A curious case.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Another not so old Non-Besteller: Norwood, by Charles Portis

Another not so old Non-Besteller: Norwood, by Charles Portis

a review by Rich Horton

This blog is aimed first at books from, let's say, at least a half-century ago which were bestsellers, and also, sometimes, at books that have been "neglected" or "forgotten". I remember mentioning somewhere that one of the writers who is sometimes called "neglected" is Charles Portis, when he really isn't. In fact, for a writer with only five novels to his credit, the last of them published almost a quarter-century ago, Portis gets a pretty fair share of attention. To be sure, that's mostly because of one book -- True Grit -- and the two (both excellent) movies made from it. And the likes of Roy Blount, Jr. and Ron Rosenbaum did yeoman work, back in the day, to keep Portis in people's minds when few people remembered anything but the John Wayne movie. All that said, by now, all five of his novels are in print (from Overlook Press), and he is certainly on the general literary radar. (Which makes it a bit of a shame that he seems to be retired ... I don't know of anything new he's done this millennium, actually.)

Portis was born in 1933, and is still alive. He grew up in Arkansas, fought in the Korean War, and got his degree in Journalism from the University of Arkansas, then worked on papers in Arkansas and New York, before turning to fiction. Norwood was his first novel, published in 1966. It was followed by True Grit in 1968, which was made into the famous John Wayne movie in 1969. Norwood was filmed, much less successfully, in 1970, starring the other two featured actors from True Grit, Glen Campbell and Kim Darby. (Obviously, the wrong two actors to choose!) The movie also featured Joe Namath, of all people, and radically altered the novel's plot.

The novel opens with Norwood Pratt getting his discharge from the Army, around 1960, because his father has died and his sister can't be trusted on her own. Norwood comes home to Ralph, Texas (on the Arkansas border), obsessing a bit over the $70 his friend Joe William Reese still owes him. He goes to work at a gas station, and soon has to deal with an annoying and idle man that his sister marries. Norwood himself dreams of becoming a country music star. He runs into a man named Grady Fring, who has his hands in a number of different money-making pies. Fring hires him to drive a couple of cars (one towing the other) to New York ... and to take a young woman with him.

This doesn't go too well, and Norwood ends up in New York with neither the cars nor the woman, and he begins to make his way back home by bus. He runs into some interesting folks on the way, including a chicken, a British midget, and a pretty girl named Rita Lee. Norwood hooks up with Rita, particularly once her supposed fiance deserts her, and Norwood pays a visit to Joe William Reese to retrieve his $70, before saying farewell to the midget and returning, with Rita Lee, to Ralph.

And that's about all there is to the plot -- which tells you damn little about the novel. It's a road novel (obviously enough). (So too is Portis' The Dog of the South, and, if you think about, even True Grit. I haven't read Portis' other novels, Masters of Atlantis and Gringos.) The delights of the novel -- which are considerable -- lay in the voices of the many characters we encounter, and in the depiction of a certain side of American life. It's a very funny novel. Norwood is an intriguing character -- something of an innocent but not entirely so -- indeed also something of a rascal. The people he encounters are likewise rascals, with their innocent sides (mostly -- perhaps not so much Grady Fring). The book is short, probably just as long as it needed to be, and it doesn't come to any conclusions, because there's no need for conclusions. I liked it just fine, though it's not the masterwork that True Grit is, to my mind. But Portis is indeed a writer who deserves our notice.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Nabokov's First Two English-language Novels: The Real Life of Sebastian Knight and Bend Sinister

Nabokov's First Two English-language Novels: The Real Life of Sebastian Knight and Bend Sinister

a brief review by Rich Horton

These are two novels, the first two in English* by the incomparable Vladimir Nabokov, that can hardly be called "forgotten" -- Nabokov's stature is such that none of his novels are remotely forgotten. However, these novels are less known than his later novels, and even less known than his major Russian novels such as The Gift, Glory, and The Defense. And they certainly weren't bestsellers -- it was not until Lolita that Nabokov had a commercial success.

(*Though there are some that suggest that Laughter in the Dark, Nabokov's 1938 translation of the 1932 Russian novel Camera Obscura, is sufficiently revised so as to count as a "new" novel in its English version. (Nabokov was motivated in part by his disdain for the first English translation.))

(And, yes, you can tell when I'm not quite ready to write about my latest "Old Bestseller"!)

Nabokov, of course, was born in Russia, in 1899, to a wealthy family from the liberal side of the nobility. After the Revolution, the Nabokovs moved to Western Europe. Vladimir took a degree at Cambridge, but the family settled in Berlin, where his father was murdered in 1922, ironically by a Russian monarchist. Vladimir began writing fiction and poetry in the emigre community, under the name V. Sirin. He married a Jewish woman, Vera Slonim, and after Hitler's rise they were eventually forced to leave Germany, first for France, then, in 1940, for the US. (Nabokov's brother Sergey, however, an outspoken opponent of Hitler, and a homosexual, died in a concentration camp.)

In the United States Nabokov taught at Wellesley and Cornell (among his students was Ruth Bader Ginsburg.) After the financial success of Lolita, he moved to Switzerland, where he died in 1977. I have read all his English language novels and many of his Russian novels and stories (in translation, to be sure), and he has long been a favorite writer of mine. All his "big four" novels, Lolita, Pnin, Pale Fire, and Ada; are remarkable -- I confess a fondness among them for the shortest, Pnin, both the funniest and the saddest of his novels.

Vladimir Nabokov's first English language novel was The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (1941). He wrote it in Paris, and it is indeed set to some extent in that city. It concerns a Russian novelist who wrote in English. The novelist has just died (in 1936), and his brother is going through his papers and becomes obsessed with learning the truth about his life, and in particular his tortured final love affair. The story follows both "Knight's" life from his birth in Russia in 1899, his parents' divorce and his father's remarriage to his brother's mother, his father's death as a result of a duel defending Sebastian's mother's honor, his school years in Russia, then his University years at Cambridge, and the composition of his five books. He has two significant affairs -- a happy one with a nice English woman; followed by an apparently stormy one with a mysterious woman. The novel's structure is roughly chronological in this sense, and also in following the brother's investigations, as he tries to interview various people from Sebastian's past, and especially as he tracks down the mysterious lover.

In part Nabokov seems to be satirizing literary criticism and biography, especially through descriptions of an opportunistic book written by a former literary secretary of Knight's, but also through the brother's loving descriptions of each of Knight's rather odd novels. But he's also interested in the mysteries of identity presented by "Knight" (never given a real last name), by his brother (given only the initial "V"), and by the various different women who might be the mystery lover who ruined Knight's life. At the end, as the brother rushes to Knight's deathbed, he curiously seems to become Knight himself. A striking and beautifully written book, though not to me as engaging or satisfying as such later novels as Pnin and Pale Fire.

His first novel written in the US, and his second in English, was Bend Sinister (1947). Like one of his later Russian-language novels, Invitation to a Beheading, it is explicitly political, in a way generally foreign to Nabokov. (Indeed, to write a "political" novel was rather against Nabokov's usual artistic philosophy, and in his 1963 Introduction to this novel, he takes pains to point out that the focus of the novel is the main character's relationship with his son, not the repressive political conditions which drive the novel's plot.) Bend Sinister opens with the death of Olga Krug, beloved wife of philosopher Adam Krug. Krug is left with an 8-year old boy, David, in a country torn by a revolution led by an oafish schoolmate of Krug's, Paduk, called the Toad by his fellows at school. The new regime attempts to gain Krug's support, offering both the carrot of a University presidentship and the stick of veiled threats conveyed by the arrest, over time, of many of Krug's friends. The brutal climax comes when the new regime, almost by accident, realizes that the only lever that will work on Krug is threats to his son, then, due, apparently, to grotesque incompetence, manages to fumble away that lever.

The novel is (one is tempted to say "of course") beautifully written. Passage after passage is lushly quotable, featuring Nabokov's elegant long sentences, lovely imagery, and complexly constructed metaphors; as well as his love of puns, repeated symbols, and humour. The characters are well-portrayed also -- Krug, of course, and his friends such as Ember and Maximov, as well as villains such as the Widmerpoolish dictator Paduk and the sluttish maid Mariette. The novel, though ultimately quite tragic, is filled with comic scenes, such as the arrest of Ember, and comic set-pieces, such as the refugee hiding in a broken elevator. As Nabokov asserted, the relationship between Adam Krug and his son is the fulcrum on which the novel turns, and it is from that the novel gains its emotional power. But much of the novel is taken up with rather broad satire of totalitarian communism. The version portrayed here is of course an exaggeration of the true horror that so affected Nabokov's life, but it still has bite. The central philosophy of the new regime is not Marxism per se, but something called "Ekwilism", which resembles the philosophy satirized in Kurt Vonnegut's short story "Harrison Bergeron" -- it is the duty of every citizen to be equal to every other, and thus great achievement is unworthy. (It is not to be missed that Paduk was a failure and a pariah at school.) All this is bitterly funny, but almost unfortunate, in that it is so over the top in places that it can be rejected as unfair to the Soviet system which it seems clearly aimed at. That's really beside the point, however -- taken for itself, Bend Sinister is beautifully written, often very funny, and ultimately wrenching and tragic.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Old Bestseller: Dora Thorne, by Charlotte Mary Brame ("Bertha M. Clay")

Dora Thorne, by Charlotte Mary Brame ("Bertha M. Clay")

a review by Rich Horton

OK, back to an Old Bestseller, a really old one this time, with an interesting (to me) publication history. I found this book, as with so many, in an antique store, and it looked like it would be an interesting, if not necessarily good, example of Victorian popular fiction. And so it proved to be.

My copy seems to date to around the turn of the 20th Century. The publisher is Donohue, Henneberry and Co., from Chicago. The title page simply reads Dora Thorne, by Bertha M. Clay. There is no copyright notice, no dating, no pictures, no author information.

I looked up Bertha Clay and found that it is a pseudonym, for Charlotte Mary Brame (1836-1884). Brame was an Englishwoman, who married a jeweler and had nine children (only 4 of whom survived to adulthood). Her husband was a drunk and a poor businessman, and Brame turned to writing fiction to help make ends meet. She had published some poems and Catholic themed short stories for a Catholic magazine, the Lamp, beginning in her teens. Her first commercial publications were a couple of books collecting these and similar stories, in the late '60s. Brame also began selling less uplifting tales to the Family Herald, a long running magazine (or story paper) aimed at middle- to lower-class readers. At first these were short stories, but soon she was placing serialized novels with them. She also sold series to similar markets such as Bow Bells, Young Ladies' Journal, and the Family Reader. This last was, beside the Family Herald, her most important market. Eventually she seems to have signed an exclusive contract with the Family Herald, and her subsequent fiction in other markets appeared anonymously or under ambiguous bylines.

She was quite remarkably prolific, publishing over 60 novels and quite a few short stories and novelettes in a career that lasted less than two decades. She made a reasonable amount of money from this (though less than she deserved, as we shall see) -- perhaps 2000 pounds per year or more at her peak. However, due to her husband's dissolute ways, and medical expenses, the family was in financial stress throughout, and indeed Brame's husband committed suicide a couple of years after Charlotte's death.

So, why "Bertha M. Clay"? It seems this was a pseudonym concocted by her American publishers (the initials, of course, are Charlotte M. Brame's initials backward). The first publisher to use "Bertha M. Clay" was Street & Smith (familiar to SF readers as the original publishers of Astounding), but they lost control of that pseudonym quickly. Indeed, after Brame's death, the Clay name became something of a house name, though perhaps not for any specific house, and quite a number of novels by other hands were published as by Clay, or even, in some cases, as by "Dora Thorne".

In fact, the name Bertha Clay has appeared in this blog before -- in my review of T. W. Hanshew's Cleek of Scotland Yard I quoted a newspaper article from the time of Hanshew's death debunking the apparently common rumor that he was the person behind the ""Dora Thorne" books by "Bertha Clay"".

More importantly, it seems likely that Charlotte Brame was never paid for the American editions of her books. Its worth noting that the US in those days was no respecter of foreign copyrights. Brame's books were apparently very good sellers in the US, but she didn't benefit from that. (Her brother-in-law, George Brame, who had moved to Canada, did complain about this after her death.)

I should credit my main source for most of this information, a bibliography compiled by Graham Law, Gregory Drozdz, and Debby McNally in 2011, available here . This sort of research is really wonderful, and I thank the compilers for it.

Well, after all that, what about the novel? Dora Thorne was always Charlotte Brame's most famous novel (as hinted by such things as the use of "Dora Thorne" as a faux pseudonym after Brame's death). It first appeared in the Family Herald in late 1871. It's the story of the disastrous marriage of Ronald Earle, the only child of Lord Earle of Earlescourt; to Dora Thorne, the pretty daughter of the lodge-keeper. Lord Earle banishes Ronald over the marriage, and the couple sets up in Italy, where Ronald becomes an only moderately successful painter. He quickly tires of the uneducated Dora, and the marriage breaks up over Dora's jealousy of a beautiful woman that Ronald's family had wished him to marry. Ronald's most successful painting uses this woman as a model, and even though they never truly betray Dora, they act suspiciously enough that Dora's anger is understandable, especially in light of Ronald's mistreatment of her. She leaves him, after some hard words on both sides, and takes their twin girls, Beatrice and Lillian, back to England, to live with her parents (who have moved away from Earlescourt).

Ronald vows never to see his wife again, and hares off to South Africa. Dora raises her two girls, oddly enough finally attaining the education she had previously lacked. Beatrice grows up a great but wilful beautfy, while Lillian is the more saintly character. And the lonely Beatrice, turning 16, makes a terrible mistake, promising to marry a young ship captain, much below her station as the daughter of a soon to be Lord, upon the captain's return from his next voyage.

The final third of the novel, then, comes after Lord Earle's death, and Ronald's return to claim his inheritance. His daughters move to Earlescourt, and become great successes. Beatrice falls in love with a very eligible Earl, while Lillian falls in love with a cousin, the heir to Earlescourt since Ronald has no son. (Convenient, that!) But Beatrice lies to everyone when asked if she has any past incidents that may cause future trouble. So of course when the ship captain returns to claim her hand, a terribly melodramatic conclusion is set up.

Of course Beatrice could have solved her problems by telling the truth at almost any time ... but by and large most of the problems are cause by stiffnecked and overly rigid men. Indeed, though the text of the novel seems to blame Beatrice (and before her, Dora) for the problems in their love lives, common sense tells any reader that the elder Lord Earle, his son, and indeed Beatrice's noble lover, Lord Airlie, as well as the ship captain who presumes on a 16 year old's promise; are much more to blame. The bibliographers suggest that Charlotte Brame's sympathies also lie with the women, but that she was to an extent writing to her particular market (the Family Herald), and they note that the stories she wrote for the Family Reader took a somewhat more feminist tack.

Anyway, Dora Thorne isn't by any means a great work. It's very melodramatic, and the characters are difficult to believe (though Beatrice, at least, comes somewhat to life). The prose is actually not bad, though a bit overwrought at times, and over descriptive fairly often. The novel's structure is loose, rather flat -- probably to a considerable extent reflecting its origins as a serial. As with so many books in this series of reviews -- it's not hard to see why it found a wide readership, but it's not likely to every again find much popularity.