A few months ago, I received a package in the mail. It came all the way from the States and contained a 104-year-old book – a 1906 reprint of an Edwardian bestseller. My friend Karina's
It had been a while since I had last read a baroque Victorian novel, and it seems that I had all but forgotten what it is like. Reading the first few pages of Deeping’s prose was a little like receiving a blow to the head. I was dizzy with the overwrought imagery. Here is a taste:
Mr Deeping (1877-1950), it is clear, likes his Aesthetes. He harnesses the worst affectations and most artificial phrasing of Wilde and Swinburne to write a romance novel. He adds positively lethal doses of alliteration and superfluous adjectives to the mix. In fact, his writing reminds me painfully of my own prose style :P. To do myself justice, I don’t insist on using “panier” when I could write “basket”, or “potage” instead of “soup”. Deeping does. As soon as I got used to it, I actually found his pedantry funny and went along with it.
Uther & Igraine is pure historical romance. When I say “historical”, I mean it in the widest possible sense. The story is set in what looks like post-Roman Britain, but the author adds all sorts of elements that evoke chivalry and courtly love and do not match the timeframe at all. Everything in this novel serves the romance. Characterisation, historicity and background: they are all (mostly cardboard) props to decorate the stage on which the Passionate and True Love of Uther and Igraine is shown. But if you can accept the novel for what it is, it is quite an enjoyable read, and much less silly than many of its modern counterparts.
“The true love of Uther and Igraine”? You heard it right.
My little summary might lead you to assume that Igraine spends the entire novel playing the part of damsel in distress. If it is true that she has to suffer violence, trickery and death threats, it should nevertheless be mentioned that she is also a brave girl with a sharp tongue who is not content to let other people decide her fate. She fires arrows at Saxons, lies and tricks, jousts if she has to – no, she is no wilting lily. Of course she becomes “as a child” when Pelleas is near, and she goes insane at one point, as Victorian conventions demand, but in general she is rather more emancipated than her sisters in the pseudo-feminist Arthurian novels of the 1990s. Take that, Rosalind Miles!
Should you feel like reading this cute, quirky little romance, I am happy to report that it is widely available in digital form on the Internet.
On the Gawain-o-meter:
Zero! There is no trace of Gawain, which is not surprising seeing as Igraine is very young and has no children yet. If there is neither a Morgause nor an Anna, there is not going to be a Gawain either. I have no idea how Deeping envisions Arthur’s family tree.
To prove how much fun I had reading this book, I doodled three characters while on the train. Please note that Morgan is not Morgan le Fay – she is Morgan la Blanche, who does not seem to have a counterpart in the source legend (or not that I can see).