Monday, April 30, 2012

I have been reading Charlotte Yonge's novel The Heir of Redclyffe, which, according to its scholarly introduction, was as popular as Dickens's novels in the 19th century. I find this difficult to believe. As you know, I have a strong stomach for 19th-century trash, but this novel may be too much even for me. The problem isn't that it's badly written because it isn't: its style is domestic and Trollopian and, though insipid, is perfectly palatable. Nor am I overly disturbed by the "angel in the house" depiction of the cute little feminine heroine (known to one and all as "Silly Little Amy"). I can deal with the romanticizing of the medieval Holy Grail theme and the chivalric ideal. (Tennyson, among other contemporaries, had the same tendencies.) I can put up with the Oxford Movement overtones and the high-church Anglicanism. What is driving me crazy is the ending.

This is a novel that ought to, as I said in my essay about my favorite 19th-century trash novel, Millbank, bear "a certain relationship to one of those tinkling baroque sonatas, the kind that rings its thematic changes with witless regularity and then, after a sweeping ritardando, grinds itself into tonic and satisfying silence. Yes, that was chord my ear expected. Yes, it arrived right on schedule. Thank God." Now believe me, I am all in favor of appropriately unhappy and/or ambiguous endings. For instance, Dickens's original sad ending for Great Expectations is far better than the happy one he substituted at the last minute. But in Redclyffe, after leading the reader through the priggish vicissitudes of courtship and moral self-control, Yonge decides, instead of slapping on the obligatory happy ending, to make her romantic hero die of fever in the wilds of pensionnat Europe, leaving Silly Little Amy to wring her hands and promise God that she will spend the rest of her life as a dutiful and pale-faced Silly Little Widow. It is the most aggravating ending ever.

P.S. I have a couple of poems here in the new Poetry Salzburg Review. It's my Austrian debut.

1 comment:

Carlene said...

I often wonder why authors wrench endings completely away from where they were leading.

Example, the ending to The Giver. Irritates me to no end.