Tag Archives: Victorian novels

An April Fool: 1898


Rowland Grey.

Mrs. Chetwynd, wife of the eminent publisher, had been a trying wife to an excellent husband for thirty years. When she died, it must be confessed that it was something of a relief, though John Chetwynd, decorous in all things, scarcely acknowledged it even to himself. The big house at Surbiton, in which Philistia had so greatly triumphed, speedily becoming intolerable, the widower, in very deep black, went to do his mourning abroad. He was a handsome, well-preserved man of sixty, who had eschewed society and stuck to business, with the result that he was the predestined victim of the first clever woman who might come in his way.

He had had no time for travel till now; had actually never even done tourist Switzerland. It was in the middle of a balmy September when he drifted to Montreux; and the blue lake, the scarlet creepers, the great beds of begonias, the gay, white hotels, came on him as a startling surprise. Montreux is a naughty little town in winter. By the time the lovely white narcissus has covered the green slopes of Les Avants, no one has a rag of reputation left.

But when Mr. Chetwynd came out into the garden of the Hotel d’Edelweiss et de la Grande Bretagne on a dazzling, dewy morning, Montreux had not quite awakened from her summer somnolence, and was innocently charming. Truth to tell, Mr. Chetwynd was first bewildered, then bored. The hotel had misled him by its sub-title, and was full of chattering old foreign ladies. Besides, an orthodox widower, in deep mourning, does not make acquaintances. He was one of those uncomfortable men who do not smoke, and, in consequence, have never properly learnt to be idle. Nor did his French go beyond a timid petition for that menu that has become an English word, because the Briton simply cannot pronounce it.

It was three days before he became aware of the presence of a compatriot in the person of a very pretty young governess called “mademoiselle” by two weedy, overdressed French bits of precocity. It was many a long month before he knew that Miss Violet Baynes had found out all about him before he had been at the Edelweiss a night. This young person was twenty-four. She dressed with an ingénue simplicity that was the perfection of well-concealed art, and Mr. Chetwynd thought she was eighteen. Her grey frock, big, shady, white hat, and peach-blossom complexion, were set off most happily by a background of flaming crimson foliage, a foreground of turquoise lake. Pierre, with lean legs in striped socks; Camille, en bébé, though much too old for that style of costume, only set off her natural grace to further advantage. Mr. Chetwynd was struck by the group. For two days he looked and longed. On the third he daringly ventured on “good morning,” and was rewarded by a dimple-revealing smile. On the fourth he was entering a small summer-house, where he was in the habit of reading the Times, when, to his surprise, he found it tenanted. Miss Baynes sat there sewing at something frilly, minus the big hat, and plus a vision of hair in curly disorder.

She exhibited all the shyness the publisher felt, and then broke the ice with such success that, within half an hour, they were chattering as if they were old friends, Pierre and Camille meanwhile making mud-pies on the gravel with toy alpenstocks. Lesson time came too soon. There was no sign of Miss Baynes at table d’hôte. When Mr. Chetwynd strolled in the garden after dinner, and looked at the moon on the lake, his mind was so pleasingly engaged, he hardly felt lonely.

Next morning they met again. The publisher heard, with much satisfaction, that Madame de Fauche, the mamma of the smirking Camille, was an invalid, wintering at Montreux. Also that Miss Baynes was an orphan. He did not move on to Glion, as he had intended, and informed his confidential clerk that he should be abroad some time longer.

One day Violet confided to him, with the prettiest hesitation, that she had tried to write; that little stories of hers had appeared here and there. He had never alluded to his own vocation, and Miss Violet was all astonishment when she heard of it.

“You are really Mr. Chetwynd? Oh, if I had known, I should never, never have dared to tell you. Only you have been so good and kind, and I am so lonely.” She raised a great pair of dewy grey eyes to her companion irresistibly as she spoke.

“Now you must promise to let me help you,” began the publisher of two leading magazines into which a legion of beginners had striven in vain to enter.

Miss Baynes showed her lovely curling lashes, and hung her head. “Oh, I could not,” she began, bashfully. “My work is so poor. I know I am not clever, and you__” She broke off most expressively, and refused to renew the subject.

Next morning she sat mending a pathetically shabby little glove. “Such hands as hers ought never to go shabby,” thought the solid Chetwynd, and the thought so haunted him that he finally creaked into a shop in the Grande Rue and bashfully bought half a dozen pairs of a wary vendor, who thus disposed of the worst, dearest, and ugliest of her stock.

He rather dreaded being thanked, but he could not keep away from the little summer-house that was redder with autumn tints every day. On this occasion it disclosed an affecting little tableau, framed in bowery creepers. Violet Baynes sat at the table, with her face hidden, her slender shoulders shaken with sobs. She was all in white, and there was no sign of Pierre or Camille, no sound of their shrill voices. Round her lay a snowstorm of manuscript sheets, a few partly torn across. It was too much for the elderly lover to see unmoved.

“Miss Baynes, Violet, what is the matter? Do let me try and comfort you.”

“Oh, my kind friend, I am very, very silly, I know, but Harvey and Medway have refused my poor novel, and I had so hoped to have been able to tell you good news about it. I did want you so to read it!”

“Did you send it in like that?” asked Chetwynd, waxing practical, and gathering up the sheets with an accustomed hand.

The artful Violet was playing her trump card now. She had only just finished the novel, and she had been engaged to a sub-editor long enough to know that only type-written copy gives a novice any chance of being read.

“Of course I did. I am much too dreadfully poor to pay for type-writing.”

Mr. Chetwynd had by this time picked it all up, and noted that it was very illegible. But he was too much in love to be daunted. He held it tightly, and said firmly, “Now I have got it, I shall read it!”

An April smile came across his tearful listener’s pretty face. She put her small hand upon his with an appealing sweetness that thrilled him.

“I will read it to you,” she said, softly, “and you shall tell me if the poor thing is worth typing.”

It took four mornings. She used to sit in a low deck chair that afforded distracting glimpses of ankles and small shoes. She had the “excellent thing in woman,” a low voice, which sometimes seemed to tremble a little when the middle-aged hero talked to the young heroine. The heroine—Gladys, of course– refused a baronet and a captain, and was finally landed in a pair of rather elderly arms. It was neither clever nor original, but it was not worse than books often issued by other firms, if never by that of the pre-eminent Chetwynd and Chetwynd.

That love is blind, proved true, as usual. Mr. Chetwynd had married his senior’s mature daughter early, after the manner of the good apprentice. But he had never loved till now.

“There is charm and freshness in your little story, and the ending is particularly good. If we can come to terms, I shall be quite willing to publish—let me see, what is it?—‘A Heart of Gold.’ Give me the copy. I will see to the typing.”

That evening Miss Baynes found a note in her room containing a cheque for fifty pounds.

Two days later Mr. Chetwynd took his courage in both hands, and proposed to his new writer. He did it so well that Mr. Jim Beresford-Smith quite enjoyed the letter telling him all about it, and the pleasing reflection that he was engaged to one of the smartest little girls in England.

Miss Baynes listened with the grace of a Récamier, but her reply was rather disappointing: “I cannot answer you at once. I am too surprised, too unworthy of the great honour you have done me. Besides, it is too soon after. We must wait. Let us say good-bye till the spring, till my book comes out, and then I will give my decision.”

“Of course she was right,” reflected Mr. Chetwynd, after he had agreed to the hard condition, comforted by that small word, “we.”

He went back, and was horribly afraid to face his own press readers. The acceptance of “A Heart of Gold,” without their intervention, filled these worthies with an excusable indignation. “Flimsy rubbish,” was the kindest verdict privately recorded against it. Then it was found that the title had been appropriated, and there was quite a buzz among the minor paragraph-mongers. Gradually an uneasy conviction stole over Mr. Chetwynd that there was a lot of unaccountable log-rolling in connection with “George Henderson.” He was old-fashioned, and detested the modern method.

No answer had as yet come from Violet, in spite of another Grandisonian appeal on his part, and the book would be out next week.

The thirty-first of March found Mr. Chetwynd seated alone in his severely mahogany dining-room, with a howling East wind making the rain clash against the panes. A wet Sunday is always abominable, and this was a peculiarly depressing specimen. Surbiton, from the window, was a dismal contrast to a memory of Montreux, all sunshine, flowers, and soft, sympathetic grey eyes, above a grey frock.

He had little appetite for breakfast, and looked to his letters for the amusement the post so seldom affords. There were two papers, halfpenny evening papers of the sort he abhorred, with great red marks.

“George Eliot, George Sand, George Fleming, and George Egerton. It is, perhaps, premature to suggest that the new recruit to the formidable ranks of the Georges will equal these; yet George Henderson, whose first novel is to appear on Monday, makes her literary début under fortunate circumstances. Issued by Messrs. Chetwynd and Chetwynd under the pleasing title April Folly, it is whispered that the book has already received the hall-mark of distinct literary approval.”

“Slovenly, vulgar trash!” growled Chetwynd, adjusting his pince-nez for the second, but in no way prepared for the blow it was destined to inflict.

“Our Swiss correspondent informs us that an interesting literary wedding has just taken place at Montreux. The charming young lady who prefers to be known as ‘George Henderson,’ was privately married to the energetic sub-editor of Mr. Worthingham’s new venture, the ‘Merry-go-Round.’” There was a further panegyric of “this thoroughly up-to-date journal,”—but poor Chetwynd read no more.

It began to dawn on him that this simple little girl had been an actress from first to last, and it was hard to tell whether he was most hurt or angry. The rain poured down in torrents, and he felt the East wind in his aching bones. He saw his own bald reflection in the looking-glass. “No fool like an old fool,” he murmured, bitterly, and “April Folly,” “April Folly,” stared at him from all the advertisement columns till he was fairly sickened.

The weather was very different in Montreux, where Jim Beresford-Smith had had rather a nasty fall from his bicycle because he had imprudently tried to put his arm round his wife’s waist in an unfrequented bit of the road to Villeneuve. She had been telling him how she had written her first novel, and how she had got it accepted.

“You see, Jim, he fell in love with me directly, and that made it easy enough. Men are blind, though, for he believed all my nonsense about having tried Harvey and Medway, and never seemed to see I’d put him in.” “Poor old chap,” said Jim, with a pitying air of magnanimity; but it is possible that, later, he learnt to feel less compassion for Mr. Chetwynd.

To-Day 16 April 1898: pp. 320-5

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil has a strong suspicion that “Rowland Grey” is the nom de plume of a young person possessed of a peach-blossom complexion and dewy grey eyes.

In fact, Miss Rowland Grey was associated with the Savoy circle (her brother was an intimate friend of W.S. Gilbert) and wrote novels such as Lindenblumen and Other Stories and In Sunny Switzerland.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


The Deepest Mourning Ever Worn; and the Richest: 1859

Mourning bonnet - Made from black ottoman silk in alternating bands with black crepe and part-lined with black sateen. It is constructed over stiffened black muslin and trimmed with a band of pleated black crepe overthe top and tied at the centre and edged with ruched Ottoman. The ties are missing. (female)

Mourning bonnet – Made from black ottoman silk in alternating bands with black crepe and part-lined with black sateen. It is constructed over stiffened black muslin and trimmed with a band of pleated black crepe overthe top and tied at the centre and edged with ruched Ottoman. The ties are missing. (female)

This fictional, but all-too-plausible episode opens when Mrs. Bazalgette believes that her niece, Lucy Fountain, has drowned at sea:

“I need not tell you,” said Mrs. Bazalgette [to the dress-maker], “why I sent for you: you know the sad bereavement that has fallen on me, but you can not know all I have lost in her. Nobody can tell what she was to all of us, but most of all to me. I was her darling, and she was mine.” Here tears choked Mrs. Bazalgette’s words for a while. Recovering herself, she paid a tribute to the character of the deceased. “It was a soul without one grain of selfishness: all her thoughts were for others, not one for herself. She loved us all: indeed, she loved some that were hardly worthy of so pure a creature’s love: but the reason was, she had no eye for the faults of her friends; she pictured them like herself, and loved her own sweet image in them. And such a temper! and so free from guile. I may truly say her mind was as lovely as her person.”

“She was, indeed, a sweet young lady,” sighed the woman.

“She was an angel, Baldwin—an angel sent to bear us company a little while, and now she is a saint in heaven.”

“Ah! ma’am, the best goes first, that is an old saying.”

“So I have heard; but my niece was as healthy as she was lovely and good. Every thing promised long life. I hoped she would have closed my eyes. In the bloom of health one day, and the next lying cold, stark, and drenched!! Oh, how terrible! Oh, my poor Lucy! oh! oh! oh!”

“In the midst of life we are in death, ma’am; I am sure it is a warning to me, ma’am, as well as to my betters.”

“It is indeed, Baldwin, a warning to all of us who have lived too much for vanities, to think of this sweet flower, snatched in a moment from our bosoms and from the world; we ought to think of it on our knees, and remember our own latter end. That last skirt you sent me was rather scrimped, my poor Baldwin.”

“Was it, ma’am?”

“Oh, it does not matter: I shall never wear it now; and, under such a blow as this, I am in no humor to find fault. Indeed, with my grief I neglect my household and my very children. I forget every thing; what did I send for you for?” and she looked with lack-lustre eyes full in Mrs. Baldwin’s face.

“Jane did not say, ma’am, but I am at your orders.”

“Oh, of course; I am distracted. It was to pay the last tribute of respect to her dear memory. Ah! Baldwin, often and often the black dress is all, but here the heart mourns beyond the power of grief to express by any outward trappings. No matter; the world, the shallow world, respects these signs of woe, and let mine be the deepest mourning ever worn, and the richest. And out of that mourning I shall never go while I live.”

“No, ma’am,” said Baldwin, soothingly.

“Do you doubt me?” asked the lady, with a touch of sharpness that did not seem called for by Baldwin’s humble acquiescence.

“Oh no, ma’am; it is a very natural thought under the present affliction, and most becoming the sad occasion. Well, ma’am, the deepest mourning, if you please, I should say cashmere and crape.”

“Yes, that would be deep. Oh, Baldwin, it is her violent death kills me. Well?”

“Cashmere and crape, ma’am, and with nothing white about the neck and arms.”

“Yes; oh yes; but will not that be rather unbecoming?”

“Well, ma’am—” and Baldwin hesitated.

“I hardly see how I could wear that, it makes one look so old. Now don’t you think black glacé silk, and trimmed with love-ribbon, black of course, but scalloped—”

“That would be very rich indeed, ma’am, and very becoming to you; but being so near and dear, it would not be so deep as you are desirous of.”

“Why, Baldwin, you don’t attend to what I say; I told you I was never going out of mourning again, so what is the use of your proposing any thing to me that I can’t wear all my life? Now tell me, can I always wear cashmere and crape?”

“Oh no, ma’am, that is out of the question; and if it is for a permanency, I don’t see how we could improve on glacé silk, with crape, and love ribbons. Would you like the body trimmed with jet, ma’am?”

“Oh, don’t ask me; I don’t know. If my darling had only died comfortably in her bed, then we could have laid out her sweet remains, and dressed them for her virgin tomb.”

“It would have been a satisfaction, ma’am.”

“A sad one, at the best; but now the very earth, perhaps, will never receive her. Oh yes, any thing you like—the body trimmed with jet, if you wish it, and let me see, a gauze bodice, goffered, fastened to the throat. That is all, I think; the sleeves confined at the wrist just enough not to expose the arm, and yet look light—you understand.”

Mourning gown trimmed with jet, c. 1883 http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/107007

Mourning gown trimmed with jet, c. 1883 http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/107007

“Yes, ma’am.”

“She kissed me just before she went on that fatal excursion, Baldwin; she will never kiss me again—oh! oh! You must call on Dejazet for me, and bespeak me a bonnet to match; it is not to be supposed I can run about after her trumpery at such a time; besides, it is not usual.”

“Indeed, ma’am, you are in no state for it; I will undertake any purchases you may require.”

“Thank you, my good Baldwin; you are a good, kind, feeling, useful soul. Oh, Baldwin, if it had pleased Heaven to take her by disease, it would have been bad enough to lose her; but to be drowned! her clothes all wetted through and through; her poor hair drenched too; and then the water is so cold at this time of year— oh! oh! Send me a cross of jet, and jet beads, with the dress, and a jet brooch, and a set of jet buttons, in case—besides—oh! oh! oh !—I expect every moment to see her carried home, all pale and wetted by the nasty sea—oh! oh! — and an evening dress of the same, the newest fashion. I leave it to you; don’t ask me any questions about it, for I can’t and won’t go into that. I can try it on when it is made—oh! oh! oh!—it does not do to love any creature as I loved my poor lost Lucy—and a black fan—oh! oh! —and a dozen pair of black kid gloves—oh!— and a mourning-ring and—”

“Stop, Aunt, or your love for me will be your ruin!” said Lucy, coldly, and stood suddenly before the pair, looking rather cynical.

“What, Lucy! alive! No, her ghost—ah! ah!”

“Be calm, aunt; I am alive and well. Now, don’t be childish, dear; I have been in danger, but here I am.”

Mrs. Bazalgette and Mrs. Baldwin flew together, and trembled in one another’s arms. Lucy tried to soothe them, but at last could not help laughing at them. This brought Baldwin to her senses quicker than any thing; but Mrs. Bazalgette, who, like many false women, was hysterical, went off into spasms—genuine ones. They gave her salts—in vain. Slapped her hands—in vain.

Then Lucy cried to Baldwin, “Quick! the tumbler; I must sprinkle her face and bosom.”

“Oh, don’t spoil my lilac gown!” gasped the sufferer, and with a mighty effort she came to. She would have come back from the edge of the grave to shield silk from water. Finally she wreathed her arms round Lucy, and kissed her so tenderly, warmly, and sobbingly, that Lucy got over the shock of her shallowness, and they kissed and cried together most joyously, while Baldwin, after a heroic attempt at jubilation, retired from the room with a face as long as your arm. À bas les revenants!! She went to the housekeeper’s room. The housekeeper persuaded her to stay and take a bit of dinner, and soon after dinner she was sent for to Mrs. Bazalgette’s room.

Lucy met her coming out of it. “I fear I came mal apropos, Mrs. Baldwin; if I had thought of it, I would have waited till you had secured that munificent order.”

“I am much obliged to you, miss, I am sure; but you were always a considerate young lady. You’ll be glad to learn, miss, it makes no difference; I have got the order; it is all right.”

“That is fortunate,” replied Lucy, kindly, “otherwise I should have been tempted to commit an extravagance with you myself. Well, and what is my aunt’s new dress to be now?”

“Oh, the same, miss.”

”The same? why, she is not going into mourning on my return? ha! ha!”

“La bless you, miss, mourning? you can’t call that mourning: glacé silk, and love-ribbons scalloped out, and cetera. Of course it was not my business to tell her so; but I could not help thinking to myself, if that is the way my folk are going to mourn for me, they may just let it alone. However, that is all over now; and your aunt sent for me, and says she, ‘Black becomes me; you will make the dresses all the same.'” Baldwin retired radiant.

Lucy put her hand to her bosom. “Make the dresses all the same—all the same whether I am alive or dead. No, I will not cry; no, I will not. Who is worth a tear? what is worth a tear? All the same. It is not to be forgotten—nor forgiven.”

“Love me Little, Love me Long,” Stories, Volume 2, Charles Reade, 1859

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The vagaries of hypocritical mourning have long formed a subject for satire. Glacé silk, with its glossy finish, would have been unthinkable for deep mourning. Jet trimmings were equally inadmissable in first mourning, as was love-ribbon, a gauze ribbon with a satin stripe. Textiles with dull finishes were theoretically meant to symbolise that the “light had gone out” of one’s life, although one suspects that the discomfort of crape may have been an echo of the penitential sack-cloth and ashes which society was so fond of inflicting upon widows. 

For more on the fads and fancies of Victorian mourning see The Victorian Book of the Dead.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.