Lucinda Elliot

Disinherited Earls and Conniving Cousins

I had read some of the classic robber novels as a background for my spoof ‘Ravensdale’ ie ‘Rinaldo Rinaldini’ by Vulpius, ‘Dubrovski’ by Pushkin, and Schiller’s drama ‘The Robbers’ (geek, or what?).

‘Ravensdale’ is on a theme beloved by writers of historical romance ‘The Disgraced Young Earl, Condemned by his Previous Wild Reputation, Assumed Guilty of Murder Turns Brigand, partly due to Wicked Machinations of Conniving Cousin’. I remembered that this
theme, which of course, was the basis of Schiller’s ‘Die Rauber’ had featured in various novels by Georgette Heyer – off the top of my head, ‘The Black Moth’ ‘The Talisman Ring’ and no doubt others, and also in Barbara Cartland novels, ie ‘The Knave of Hearts’ .

Yes, at fourteen, during a spell of being snowed up in the Clwyd Valley, North Wales, I did manage to read these. I have to say that apart from the titles, I only remember the vague outlines to the stories…

During this spell of snow bound boredom, pacing restlessly through the unheated unnecessary rooms and long gloomy passages of the house where my family then lived, I also came across another book on the bookshelves, which my mother had to some extent furnished with books bought in job lots at auctions which she attended in search of Victoriana; it was called ‘The Outcast of the Family Or a Battle Between Love and Pride’ and was by one Charles Garvice.

It was purely terrible. Lurid melodrama, sentimental beyond belief,
a sort of Mills and Boon Taken to Extremes meets Boy’s Own Circa
1894. Snorting with merciless teenage derision, I leafed through its pages.

As this long forgotten work by a once best selling and prolific author is precisely about a Young, Wild and Disgraced Earl framed for murder by the dastardly scheming of a Conniving Cousin, I remembered it and decided to re-read it recently. For all I know, the book I read might still be up in the declined remains of my family’s property in North Wales somewhere, but a cyber friend Thomas Cotterill tracked down a much scrambled digital version for me. I have to say, if I hadn’t roughly known the melodramatic plot before, I would have found it difficult to read.

Here is my ‘Goodreads’ review.

I remember trying to read this when I was fourteen and snowed up in North Wales (my mother attended lots of auctions to buy Victoriana and got stuck with a lot of job lots of books along with other stuff). At that time, I found it too ridiculous to read properly, ‘skim’ reading it instead. It certainly wouldn’t have been fair to review it on that basis.

Remembering this as an example of an old novel on the tired theme of ‘Disgraced Lord Turned Outlaw is Framed for Murder by Conniving Cousin Who is Also a Rival in Love’ which I am using for my latest novel, the spoof historical romance ‘Ravensdale’, I decided to re-read it.

I found it even more ridiculous this time round; while I love a melodramatic read full of cardboard characters and absurd co-incidences, as for instance, Vulpius’ ‘Rinaldo Rinaldini’,somehow, I couldn’t enjoy this, absurd as it was.

I am also in a quandry; if this was a modern author, I would mark down as a matter of course to a one star rating anyone who displayed such awful anti Semitism and snobbery; but as one has to judge writers by the time in which they lived and unfortunately, a good deal of otherwise good writing of the late nineteenth century was marred by these ugly features – I am awarding it a two and a half star rating (which will show up as a three). Unfortunately, besides having these defects this isn’t good writing either- it’s purely dreadful.

However, I do think it’s wrong not to find something positive to say about a book and at at one point I was actually touched by this absurd story. This was when the hero shows humility and magnanimity when he thinks he has lost everything after trying to reform: – ‘‘He (the Conniving Cousin) has stepped into my place, he has got my father’s good will, that’s all right enough. And now he has won you! Oh yes, it’s all right! I am paying the penalty. I am reaping the harvest I have sown, but my God! It’s hard to bear…He will take my place. I was never worthy to fill it. God bless you, Eva.’

I think this is because all writers have occasional access to a state of inspiration where one has access to a strange mind state where the writing seems to come from above and beyond oneself, and Garvice reaches it there. He is letting the hero reveal himself as he wants him to be to the reader, unassuming,brave and capable of great things, including transcending his own violent urges and striving to become ‘a good man’. Unfortunately, most of the time he badgers his readers about Heriot Fayne and Eva Winsdale’s admirable qualities instead of showing them.

Ms Matter in her fascinating article on Garvice, ‘Pursuing the Great Bad Novelist’ is kind enough to say that he’ endured more ridicule than any decent human being should’.

I can see why. The tone is melodramtic, sentimental and sententious; the characters are made of cardboard,the plot is full of wildly improbable co-incidences (treated solemnly) and the author makes no attempt to endear his hero and heroine to the reader, saying of Eva Winsdale ‘the reader is to fall in love with her as quickly as possible’.

Of his Mary Sue heroine he says:- ‘Eva…was full of spirit and wit,and by no manner of means at all like the fool of the ingenue one…reads of in the impossible modern novel’.

Eva, in fact, does make one witty remark in the whole novel (not needless to say, at the expense of the hero, who is obviously never ridiculous, even when staggering round drunk with a bashed head dressed as a coster) but apart from hanging on to the reins of her bolting horse she shows very little spirit at all. Instead she goes pale as she sacrifices herself for her father, drops her head on her arms and occasionally, faints.

However, everybody worships her; she gives the Wicked Lord, Heriot Fayne one sympathetic look (actually, I think, two) and he is struck by a desperate urge to become worthy of asking for her hand. The Conniving Cousin, the nasty, manipulative Stannard Marshank, falls in love with her at first sight. With regard to the names,I can only suppose that Garvace, who regularly produced twelve novels a year, was running out of names to come up with such a pair as Stannard Marshbank and Heriot Fayne.

Eva’s two cousins distinguish her from ‘Ordinary girls like ourselves’; that’s the spirit, minor characters – know your place! Her father and the hero’s father compliment her on her Christian attitude of sympathy towards the Outcast Lord Heriot Fayne but nobody sees anything amiss in her coldness to the young girl she thinks has been debauched and deserted by him.

Needless to say, I did.

Also, when the Conniving Cousin makes a (nearly full) confession of his murder and dies, she does not say a kind or comforting word to this unwelcome fiance, though he is very considerately leaving her alone at last and worships her. Though he is obviously unrepentant about the murder, she makes no effort to turn his thoughts to higher things. I must admit I found this very unappealing.

In Heriot, Lord Fayne, the author has created almost an ideal type of Marty Stu over achieving hero with ‘an indescribable air of command’.
Lord Fayne is: – ‘…superbly made…his head in shape and poise like that of a Greek statue, was set upon a straight, columnar neck. His eyes, of a dark brown hue, flashed with daring reckless gleam’. But – horror of horrors- this aristocrat goes about dressed like a costermonger in cords and a cap,this not because he has sympathies with the working class – his views are oddly conventional for an outcast – but because he wishes to shame and disgrace his family, and likes brawling in music halls.

Eva’s flaccidly cynical father has said why he does this: ‘ His brother was the pink of perfection, every inch an Averleigh – the eldest son was worshiped, pampered, feted, idolised; this second, this Heriot Fayne, neglected…it raised the devil that must have been sleeping in him…’

Oddly enough, though this older son has had such an effect on the development of Heriot Fayne’s character, and his rift with his widowed father and his Aunt, we never hear more about this son, even his name, and never are told what the neglected younger son thought of him.

Of course, Victorian understanding of character strikes us as being very primitive, but this is just one of the many odd blanks in the text. Another is why Lord Fayne suddenly tuns up lying on the heather near his father’s estate when we last saw him flaked out in his London apartments. One assumes it is meant to be connected with his concussion. Eva mistakes him for a tramp, but this is not depicted as being amusing. A note of humour, of ironical detachment, would actually have rendered these characters and their situation far more appealing, but Garvice was no more capable of such a subtlety than Richardson.

Anyway, I gather from Ms Matter’s articles that this Hero Concealed in the Heather in Readiness to do a Rescue is a favourite device of Garvice, and he places Heriot Fayne there to rescue Eva when her horse bolts.

On the question of the text, by the way, I would probably have found this harder to read if I hadn’t roughly remembered the plot from before; this digitally enhanced version is very poor with scrambled sentences on every page.

Heriot Fayne has contradictions in his character beyond the ones for which the author allows; for instance,he is supposed to be ‘wild and reckless but incapable of a mean act’ but he does several mean things.

In the first few pages, after the ‘row’ at the music hall (in which somebody hit his head with a decanter, leaving him clearly concussed, though Heriot Fayne is far too macho to be seriously discommoded by that, let alone disgracing himself by vomiting), he returns home and encounters his drunken friends (unconvincing costers and prize fighters, I think) and a Jewish money lender:
‘” Sorry to trouble you, my lord, but that little bill…” Lord Fayne smiled, gripped him by the shoulder, and forced him over to the window. “Your bill’s all right, Levy; bother me just now and out you go.’

Lord Fayne, you see, has an air of ‘indefinable authority’ and ‘indescribable breeding and command’. He only need order ‘finish the bottle and clear’ to these sycophants, and they hurry to obey him.

Then, when Heriot Fayne finds out that his cousin has seduced the daughter of one of is father’s tenants, he says, ‘I have never deceived a confiding, innocent girl’ but we gather that he has treated other women rather badly: ‘Women had been, to him, fair game; to be hunted, beguiled, deceived; his heart had never quailed until now; Love! He had laughed at it…’

These, of course, must have been bad, naughty women who had done bad, naughty things with him; not pure girls like Eva, who doesn’t even seem to have a body.

He promises Eva he will reform, throws his whisky and soda into the fire, tears down his prints of racehorses and prize fighters and sets off as an itinerant fiddler, mingling with farm workers. This is rather odd; his associating with the urban poor is seen as a sign of his degraded character, but his associating with country commoners apparently cleanses his soul.

I suspect that this may have been because at this time, costermongers were notoriously ‘Chartists to a man’ according to Henry Mayhew, unlike the nice, forelock tugging rural population, who knew their rightful place.

Garvice’s sentimental view of rural people is all in line with the whole tone of this novel.

Over achiever as he is, Heriot Fayne is not only ‘one of the best lightweight boxers of his age’ but also a brilliant violinist, pianist, singer,sailor, athelete and horseman and he only need pick up a fork and ‘Darned if you don’t handle a fork a’most as well as a fiddle-bow, my man…’

One can only suppose the older son who so eclipsed this paragon was super human.

Soon, Heriot Fayne is reformed, one of the side effects of the country air, it seems: – ‘He was a new man, softened by contact with and sympathy for the rural poor, and the simple minded, honest country folk. Wherever he went he was made welcome, not only on account of his wonderful violin and the musical voice, but by reason of his handsome face and frank, kindly manner.’

I would like to add here that I am a great believer in the redeeming power of love – but not from a sentimental viewpoint; Heriot Fayne’s change of heart and mind is portrayed in excessively sentimental terms, and us both arbitrary and unconvincing.

Of course,even in his debauched days he always impressed people with his patrician air of command and his Greek statue appearance, but now he is developing into a worthy successor to the aging Lord Averleigh – everyone loves and admires him, from the ailing little Lily on the isolated ranch where he gets temporary employment, to whom he provides songs and stories on long journeys,to her phlegmatic father who nurses Heriot through his bout of malaria ‘as gently as a woman’ knowing his worth. He says he hasn’t met an English gentleman before, but if Heriot is anything to go by, they are an admirable lot. He even wins over the hardened detective Jones who bursts out on seeing him during his short (and of course, stoically borne) imprisonment for the murder done by the dastardly Stannard Marshbank, ‘You’re a brick, Sir! Sorry…’

The Conniving Cousin, by contrast, has ‘pale eyes’ and is small. A successful opportunist politician, he has no friends, and acts dishonourably throughout, deliberately leading Eva’s father into financial ruin so that he can obtain power over her through him, seducing an innocent girl, murdering the man who threatens to betray him to Eva and finally, plagued by nightmarish visions and addicted to ‘chloral’, falling into the copper mine into which he pushed his own victim, thus sustaining mortal injuries.

It is never explained why he hates Heriot Fayne so much – jealousy, presumably, must play a big part – but this is only one of many gaps in the story.

Heriot Fayne sacrifices himself for Eva, believing that she loves Stannard Marshbank – not as if anybody does, everybody seems to blame him for being short with pale eyes – but the misunderstanding is all sorted out. This is done partly through the investigations of a tough but fair detective. After a series of absurd co-incidences – in one Marshbank just happens to come on a malaria suffering Heriot Fayne in a remote ranch in Argentina – all ends happily, with the reformed Lord Fayne slipping his ring on Eva’s finger and reconciled with his father and aunt.

Overall, ‘The Outcast of the Family’ is one of the worst books I have ever read. I certainly should have given it a lower rating, but I must be in a charitable mood today. Too much fresh air, I think, making me feel benevolent. Plus, I do hate awarding low star ratings to books. Where’s my whisky and soda?

I finally quote some fascinating comments from Laura Sewell Matter’s stimulating article on Charles Garvice: –

‘The question that concerned the critics was not whether Garvice’s work was high art – it patently was not – but whether he was a calculating businessman who condescended to write for the newly literate feminine masses or a simpleton who believed in the sort of twaddle he peddled. A fool or a cormorant. Either way, he was damned. I began to collect Garvice’s novels – On Loves Altar , His Love So True , A Relenting Fate. I could never get through any of them, other than The Verdict of the Heart. Little beyond the particulars of the heroines hair color differentiates one from another, and without seaweed stuck to the pages, the stories were stripped of mystery. They bored me….

‘Those critics who would rather rend his pages and toss them into the drink than sit on the beach reading them have had their way in the end. The formula that Garvice so successfully exploited – virtuous heroines overcoming numerous obstacles to attain happiness – is a predictable one, which any author might employ. His readers are now dead, and their Garvices – if they exist at all – molder in the attics of the Western world while books much like them, by authors who have learned the same lessons and applied the same patterns to their fiction, are being read on the beach today…’


‘What Garvice knew and honored, are the ways so many of us live in emotionally attenuated states, during times of peace as well as war. Stories like the ones Garvice wrote may be low art, or they may not be art at all. They may offer consolation or distraction rather than provocation and insight. But many people find provocation enough in real life, and so they read for something else. One cannot have contempt for Garvice without also having some level of contempt for common humanity, for those readers – not all of whom can be dismissed as simpletons – who may not consciously believe in what they are reading, but who read anyway because they know: a story can be a salve…’

After this, you will be astonished to know that I actually downloaded and skimmed through a couple of other novels by Garvice. No, don’t worry, I am not about to protest, hands trembling, that, ‘I can give them up any time’ and ‘I can handle it’… No. I couldn’t face reading them through, but it did seem only fair to get a rough idea as to whether I found them as bad as ‘The Outcast as the Family’ with such cardboard characters, improbable co-incidences, melodramatic flourishes, absurd speeches, etc.

The answer from what I saw of ‘Only One Love Or Who Was the Heir’ and ‘The Woman’s Way’ seems to be yes. I also note that the Misjudged Rogue and the Conniving Cousin seems to be a favourite theme of his, and Heriot Fayne and Stannard Marshhank have a couple of predecessors in one of the two I read, in Jack ‘The Savage’ Newcombe and his sneaking cousin Stephen in ‘Only One Love’. In fact, Jack is not such a Marty Sue as Heriot Fayne, which makes him far more sympathetic.

I am puzzled as to why an astute businessman like Garvice, who wrote purely for profit, didn’t notice that readers don’t tend to like an over achiever like Heriot Fayne,but I suppose even he slipped up now and then as he ploughed through dictating those novels to that ‘cultured’ secretary of his.

I leave you with a couple of the most ridiculous covers. Words fail me…


Leave a Reply