Okay, so I’m reading this ‘Victorian Gothic Novel of Mystery’ entitled Uncle Silas by J.S. LeFanu, and for the most part it’s all right. Excellent language, if a trifle dense, and very atmospheric and all that. LeFanu has a great ear for dialects, and for the most part has built up a great cast of characters. Now, the plot is crap. You can see through it a mile away, the ruse the villains are playing on the central character Maud. But I don’t mind plodding through the plot because LeFanu has crafted such perfectly odious villains that I’m biding my time and waiting for them to get their come uppance.
I mean, they really are delightfully awful. The eponymous Uncle Silas is fascinating and sepulchral and utterly insincere and mendacious, and yet protests a religious air that Maud continues to believe despite all evidence against it. And Madame de la Rougierre is so raw boned and ghastly and vivacious and foul that I am just dying for her to get eaten by hounds and pounded to pulp by a massive British Gorilla.
But good Lord is this book trying my patience. There is no earthly way that Maud can be so dense and naive. She is so good natured that she time and time again allays her own suspicions, terrors and doubts due simply to familial loyalty and a reluctance to believe her Uncle less than holy. The evidence mounts, and I’m finally at the point where its past all credence. I actually want Maud to lose her fortune, and for Uncle Silas and the Madame to run off cackling into the sunset.
That’s the problem with all these Victorian heroines like Pamela and Clarissa and now Maud–they’re such ‘paragons of their sex’ that they end up being insipid and craven creatures who are prevented by their virtue from defending themselves in any meaningful way. They become two dimensional, while the villains become lovingly detailed and raucous and end up stealing the reader’s affection.
It’s like Dante’s Divine Comedy. Nobody gives a rats ass about Paradiso. I mean, honestly, who has read the third book all the way through? I have, and let me tell you it’s awfully dull. Boring. Angels flying in all sorts of silly formations, endless bursts of light, saints sitting around lecturing Dante on virtue and love, and finally more angels, more flying formations, a burst of light, God, and then home in time for supper.
No; people want the Inferno, creative torture, souls shrieking in torment as they gibber and writhe, poked and prodded by devils. Now we’re talking! Front row seats and popcorn, endless generations reading about Hell and the Devil and storms of fire and seas of boiling lead.
Bah. I’m going to finish Uncle Silas, and only hope that Maud gets a really, really good fright before the bad guys lose. I mean, she’s already grown hysterical once to the point of fainting and hallucinated her dead dad weighing in on the proceedings, so I think there’s a good chance of another conniption.
Here’s an example of the Madame’s pidgin English, to be read with a massive French accent in mind:
“I did not think there was soche a fool. Wat enfant gate! My dear cheaile, wat a can you mean by soche strange language and conduct? Wat for should a you weesh to display yourself in the window in soche ‘orrible deshabille to the people in the doctor’s coach?”
So, LeFanu: top marks for villains, writing dialect (the french above was but one example), and creating atmosphere of tedium and dread. Failure in terms of plot and credibility! And Maud, vaguely sympathetic for most of the novel, now deserves to be keelhauled for her stupidity.