Lucinda Elliot

Titles From Victorian Romantic Melodramas to Make You Smile

The news generally being fairly grim – again – and there being nothing like a laugh to raise the spirits, I thought I’d write some more about looking through the titles of best sellers of  the Victorian and Edwardian  era.

And what better way than to begin with some of those by the subject of my last blog post, the writer of Victorian romantic melodramas, Charles Garvice. His titles can raise a smile, at least.

For instance, there is one of his earlier listed novels, the 1887, ‘Twixt Smile and Tear’, and the 1893 tile, ‘’’Twas Love’s Fault’. Then there is ‘The Ashes of Love, Or Fickle Fortune’ (1901?) ‘So Fair, So False’ (1902), and ‘Wicked Sir Dare’ (1911).  There is the best seller that led to his worldwide success, ‘Just a Girl Or The Strange Duchess’ (1898).

His 1908 novel, ‘In Wolf’s Clothing’ (1908) is sadly, almost certainly not a werewolf romance. He did, however, seemingly write at least one historical romance, by the title of ‘The Call of the Heart: A Tale Of  Eighty Years Since’ (1914). That, presumably, would be right at the end of the Regency era, and might even feature a Regency version of his usual Victorian Wild Young Earl (Or Earl’s Heir) Hero…

Astonishingly, given Garvice’s ‘traditional’ – not to say regressive — views on women’s role,  there is one actually called ‘The Female Editor of the Manchester Trumpet’. I can’t find the date for that one at the moment, but I have a ludicrous vision of some official  mistaking that last word for the old term ‘strumpet’ .

‘Mr. Garvice: I always understood that your books maintain an irreproachable moral standard, and are distributed as Sunday School prizes. This one sounds –well, I hesitate to say ‘improper’, but…’

Another best selling author of the late Victorian era who lived into the 1920’’s was Marie Corelli. The sales of her novels exceeded those of  HG Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle and Rudyard Kipling combined. These days, like Garvice, she is largely forgotten.

She thought up some rather fine titles. ‘The Sorrows of Satan’ (1895) perhaps being the best. This, of course, was made into a film in 1925, and reflected her interest in spiritual matters. Another is, ‘Innocent: Her Fancy and His Fact’ (1914). These stories seem to be as melodramatic as Garvice’s –and unlike his, sometimes having a supernatural theme.

While they are concerned with love affairs, they would not pass the definition of a romantic novel these days, not generally having ‘upbeat’ endings. In fact, ‘The Sorrows of Satan’ has a Faustian theme.

It is an intriguing fact that the Victorian precursor of the modern romance novel was not required to have a happy ending at all – in fact, as they often dealt with (delicately portrayed) ‘irregular’ relationships, the censorship would have demanded an unhappy outcome for many of the ill starred lovers.

Other wonderful titles I have found with a cursory glance over the introductory pages of Garvice novels include: ‘Love at the Loom’ by Geraldine Fleming; ‘A Woman Without Mercy, Or A Heart of Stone’ by Mary Agnes Fleming and ‘Maid, Wife or Widow?’ by Mrs. Alexander.

Intriguing, that particular writer being only known by her husband’s surname. I think that indicated that she was a widow.  Respectable married women of this era were expected to subsume their whole identity into that of their husband, to the point of being known by his first name as well as his surname.

I have commented before how my mother used to buy job lots of assorted books at auctions to fill the bookshelves in the houses in which we lived, which is how I came across Charles Garvice in the first place. She came by books by Mrs. Humphrey Ward and Mrs. Henry Wood in this way, and I used to wonder why these women had male names…

Mrs Georgie Sheldon was another writer of the same era. Her titles include, ‘Thrice Wed: Only Once a Wife’ and ‘Earl Wayne’s Nobility’. I can’t date these, as one of the problems with much publishing at the time was that the publisher often did not trouble to state the date of publication.

Helen Mathers, whom I know from my mother’s bookshelves as well, wrote a  melodramatic tale called ‘Comin’ Thru’ the Rye’ (the title being based on the song by Robert Burns). This is reputedly based on fact. I assume that it is loosely based on fact, the villainess  Sylvia being an impossible character.

She also wrote, “Sam’s Sweetheart: in Three Volumes’ . This seems an odd subtitle to me. I thought that Victorian novels were always published in the three volume format, so that readers would be satisfied that they were getting their money’s worth.

Another title of hers based on a traditional song is ‘T’Other Dear Charmer’ (from MacHeath’s song of that name in ‘The Beggar’s Opera’). ‘A Wastrel Redeemed’ sounds as if it is intended to be uplifting maerial, while, ‘Found Out’ seems a title guaranteed to stir feelings of anxiety in those up to no good on the sly.

Finally, ‘The Unseen Bridegroom’ by Mary Agnes Fleming and ‘The Fatal Wooing’ by Laura Jean Lippey sound like wonderful pieces of melodrama.

Books in the late Victorian era, even the mass market ones, were very well made. My 1900 copy of the Charles Garvice novel ‘The Outcast of the Family’ (1894) has no loose pages and intact covers, I suppose because they were stitched rather than glued. The price of this particular edition was three shillings and sixpence – fifteen and a half new pence, only we don’t have half pences any more.

That would have been quite expensive for someone on the low wages of that time to buy. Most people who weren’t living in downright poverty no doubt found it worthwhile to join one of the ‘subscribing libraries’ which lent out books for sixpence (two and a half new pence).

This book has another intriguing detail. It has a stamped detail on it, stating that it was awarded as a Sunday School prize in January 1901 by St Dennis’ to Arthur Buldrick. It would hardly be likely to appeal to a boy. I wonder if he ever read it through?

Leave a Reply