Lucinda Elliot

Emile – what a rascal…

My characters Emile Dubois and Sophie de Courcy took over the book I was writing almost of their own accord.

I started the story of Sophie and Emile off in a summary way in a children’s book I was then writing about Lord Ynyr, which moved between the present day where he half lived on, an embittered two-hundred-year old vampire, and the past where he realised that he’d been turned into a vampire by his cousin, who’d been attacked in turn by a rebarbative scientist neighbour of theirs when they were staying in a castle in Transylvania.

I remember thinking, “This cousin is French – What’s a French name?- ah, yes, Emile as in Zola ( by the way, sorry everyone, I can’t find the wherewithal to put in the accents on the words on this blog at the moment, very sloppy, I know…).”

I later abandoned this story partly because of the difficulties in combining a story involving travel on the continent around the time of the French Revolution but mainly because I had become more interested by Count Ynyr’s rougish cousin as a character and his relationship with Lord Ynyr’s poor relative, Sophie, than I was by Lord Ynyr, the once main character.

So, Lord Ynyr was demoted;  his scoundrel of a cousin not only won the heart of the girl they both wanted, this despite his being a monster (in the original text, this was one of the things that had so soured the Count’s temperment as he brooded on this (for two hundred years – move over Heathcliff!) but intruded his prenence over the story as well and changed its genre to the present one, which is anything but suitable for children…

There was a scene in the earlier story where Emile, looking out over the scene of the bears raiding the rubbish tip in the castle courtyard in Transylvania, broods on the corrosive influence of mankind on the natural environment and comments that man is more savage than wild animals (an appropriate reflection for one turning into a vampire).

Sophie arouses the luke warm passions of Lord Ynyr as well as the more heated ones (and blood lust) of his cousin Emile Dubois; in the original version of my story, his treatment at the hands of his cousin and his poor relative embittered the poor Count for two hundred years…

He’s certainly a lively fellow, this Emile. A real rascal, as is shown by his willingness to take to highway robbery as a ‘Gentleman of the Road’ on finding his financial affairs tied up on arriving in England, but hopefully I have made him  likable through his gallantry, courage and open hearted generosity.

Yet he isn’t a simple character; his love of a game of chess, and his later ability to outwit the self-conscious intellectual Kenrick (who despises him as a criminal type) show a tricky side to his character. I leave the reader in doubt as to what goes on in his head, as though he is one of the two main characters in the story, we never find out.

I deliberately made a point of showing Emile only from the outside – the narrator is not omniscent regarding him. He’s seen through the eyes of the besotted, romantic Sophie, and through those of his companion in crime, the strutting Georges, even through the eyes of the grand-daughter of the terrible old lady who runs the lodgings where he and his fellow villains live in Paris, but the reader never has access to his thoughts, only his actions.

This woman has some of what I imagined as Sophie’s charm, a sort of voluptuous innocence that so overpowered the cynical Emile.

He’s not a liar (except to the forces of law and order) and I leave it to the reader to assume that he generally means what he says, but there is a lot that he doesn’t say, as Sophie is to find out…

In this, I owe a massive debt to that of the maddeningly amb iguous character Charley Kinraid in Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel ‘Sylvia’s Lovers’, and how he is potrayed. He is almost always seen ‘from the outside’, through the beguiled eyes of Sylvia (who is to suffer a bitter disillusionment at his hands at the end of the novel)and through the jealous eyes of her other admirer Hepburn.

I’ve read that novel three times, and there are only two times when we have any access to Kinraid’s thought processes, once when he is impressed and once when he thinks he is dying,  and even then, little is revealed.

He remains a mystery; we never know exactly what his motivations are, a true token of her skill as a writer.

So, I borrowed this technique for Emile. Whether the reader agrees with Kenrick that he should have ended his days on Tyburn, or takes to him and longs for Sophie to be able to overcome the Gothic doom hanging over them, Emile, with his apparent lazy good humor and violent fits when provoked by other aggressive males,  is to some extent a puzzle.

2 Responses

  1. I find it interesting, Lucinda, that you have been so powerfully influenced by Gaskell’s novel, ‘Sylvia’s Lovers.’ Is it Gaskell’s technique alone that captures your attention, or is there something about the story that fascinates you as well? Your interest has prompted me to recall that at least one literary critic has described “Sylvia’s Lovers” as a novel written to challenge the growing influence of romanticism at the time. In your lengthy review on The F Word site you note that Sylvia becomes disillusioned with living an “outdoor life.” Such a life was the ideal for converts to romanticism. I plan to read the novel and see for myself.

    1. Thomas, I would say both with regard to Gaskell’s influence. I liked the way she left the thoughts and motives of an influential character unknown. She may have had reasons to do with Victorian concepts of correct treatment of erring characters in doing so, of course (Kinraid has technically been guilty of a double murder and seems to have behaved caddishly to girls).

      Glad you read my review and are going to read the novel! I am quite obsessive about that story, for sure. It’s not that popular, people prefer ‘Wives and Daughters’. I’m glad you are thinking of reading it, I love discussing it with people. My take on it is that it is anti romantic, but many see it as a flawed, romantic novel.

      Regarding Sylvia’s romanticism, the unfortuante girl seems to become disillusioned with her idol Kinraid rather than outdoor life; I always thought it a huge shame she didn’t try and take over her father’s farm with the help of the labourer Kester…


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