Amy Dillwyn: Chloe Arguelle, and A Burglary

Chloe Arguelle was Amy Dillwyn’s second novel, published in 1881 – the same year as The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James and The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain. The second paragraph of its third chapter is:

To turn against all humbugs would be out of the question; for in that case she would have to begin at Alice, who was false and superficial, quite as a matter of course, and evidently never had a qualm as to the scores of untruths which she uttered or otherwise expressed daily. Yet though Chloe saw that clearly enough, she knew also that Alice was good and kind, and like a mother to her; and Chloe’s affections were closely entwined round this only near relation that she possessed, and she could not believe it possible for her to do any great wrong. Certainly matters seemed very confusing when one came to think about them seriously, and it was very hard to settle whether to go in for honesty or for conventionalism – in other words — unblushing lying !

Like a lot of Dillwyn’s heroines, Chloe Arguelle is only seventeen but already making the big decisions of womanhood, ie who to marry. She moves in a society of adults whose behaviour is generalised as “humbug” by the omniscient narrator. I found one of them particularly interesting, Lady Jane Dorville, whose behaviour is not all that different from what is reported of the author herself in later life:

Lady Jane has blunt, straightforward, masculine manners… Her assumed manliness is merely put on, and very far from being her real self. She had from childhood greatly desired to excel in some way or other, without caring much what the way might be; but she knew herself to be neither beautiful, accomplished, nor clever enough to have a chance of distinction against other competitors in either of those lines, and was therefore puzzled as to how she could gratify her ambition, until it at last occurred to her that she might go in for being more independent and masculine than any other woman, and never allow herself to be outdone in that direction.

Accordingly she took to wear her hair short, to smoke, hunt, shoot, swear, bet, and generally comport herself in as manly a manner as it is possible for a lady to do.. She has no intention of giving up the role which she has thus far found successful, and wherein she has yet met no one to outstrip her; but it is not at all really congenial to her, and to keep it up often costs her a good deal.

It’s a good character description, which doesn’t quite land right. Lady Jane actually secretly hates acting masculine, just as a number of the other characters are acting against their own real inclinations – there’s also an Irish aristocrat who dumps his impoverished girlfriend for a rich widow, which has eerie resonances in the author’s own family.

The most vicious caricature is Chloe’s brother-in-law, Sir Cadwallader Gough, a particularly stupid Liberal MP. We must bear in mind that the author’s father had been the Liberal MP for Swansea since 1855 (and died suddenly in the run-up to defending his seat in the 1892 election). I really hope that he was in on the joke.

“A little more a — a — experience will convince you, Chloe — I may say a — a — conclusively convince you — how impossible it is for every person to attempt individuality. Look for instance at myself — one of the members of the supreme Parliament, one of those a — a — chosen men to whom the whole country looks for guidance, a — a — legislation, and wisdom ; do even I venture to adopt the a — a — pernicious course that you advocate. Emphatically not! Notwithstanding that I have been called to belong to that most a — a — important and influential body, the House of Commons, and notwithstanding the heavy weight a — a — of responsibility inseparable from that position which weighs upon me, yet my a — a — distinguished position has not blinded me to the great truth that without a — a — union there can be no strength ; and consequently, whatever question may arise, I invariably sink my own individual fancies and opinions in regard to it, and a — a — vote with the party to which I belong. And if this is the course which a man of my well-ripened, practised, and a — a — matured judgment sees the necessity
of pursuing, then surely there can be no hardship in a — a — deeming it the only safe one for women, and a — a — other men of lesser calibre…”

Sir Cadwallader is humiliated by the local poachers, though not as drastically as the squire in The Rebecca Rioter, and we readers cheer for the insurgent peasants.

Chloe meanwhile rejects the obviously suitable young man who likes her; her best friend decides that she may as well go for him in that case, and they get engaged; Chloe realises that she actually really likes the chap, and spends a chapter or two agonising about having left it too late. Meanwhile her best friend’s father has foolishly annoyed his butler, to the point that the butler grabs a gun and shoots both father and daughter dead (Dillwyn often resorts to melodramatic denouement to resolve her plots). So once a decent interval has passed after the double murder, the young man and Chloe get married after all and there is a happy ending.

Like The Rebecca Rioter, this was published in Russian almost as soon as in English, but I really wonder what the Russian readers would have made of it; this is not exactly Dostoevsky or Tolstoy. The Spectator commented that the melodrama was more successful than the satire, but to me they are roughly equally flawed.

Chloe Arguelle isn’t in print, but you can get it from the Internet Archive in two volumes, here and here.

A Burglary, or, Unconscious Influence, was Dillwyn’s third novel, published in 1883, the same year as Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stephenson and Thus Spake Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

There was an imposing procession, a ceremony, military escorts, bands, a public luncheon, toasts, flags, bell-ringing, firing of guns, singing, illuminations, fireworks and enthusiasm. All classes with any claim to consideration, were represented at the function lords, commons, clergy, soldiers, sailors, volunteers, dissenters, railway directors, friendly societies, and tradespeople. Immense efforts had been made to secure the presence of as many notables and school children as possible the former to make speeches, be gazed at, and regaled upon salmon, chickens, pineapples, champagne, and similar delicacies; and the latter to swell monster choruses in the open air, and enjoy the magnificent feast of one plum-bun apiece. Some magnates of very first-rate importance, indeed, had been induced to attend from a distance, and all local grandees were present as a matter of course. Wealth in every shape and form was conspicuous in all the best places, whilst poverty was graciously permitted to stand and stare wherever the police thought it would not be in the way of its betters; and might further look forward to the high privilege of sharing with them in bearing the burden of additional taxation, which would fall upon all ratepayers as a necessary consequence of the costly decorations and entertainments in which the town thought fit to indulge.

This time, rather than juggle a large number of characters, Dillwyn has a basic triangle of her teenage protagonist, Imogen Rhys; the chap she probably likes more, Sir Charles Dover (a young baronet, not the only one in Dillwyn’s works); and the chap who really wants her to like him more, William Sylvester. We know, but none of the other characters do, that the impoverished Sylvester has committed a heinous crime by stealing the jewels of a family friend staying at the Rhys’s house in Wales – the burglary of the title. To make things more complicated, Imogen has a deep romantic crush on Ethel, the victim of the theft, depicted as an entirely normal part of the spectrum of emotional experience.

Imogen, who is tomboyish and headstrong, gets stuck into the defence of the local Welshman who is unjustly accused of the crime, much to the consternation of her family. She gets the innocent man acquitted, and must then deal with the competing calls on her affection. Meanwhile Sylvester undergoes agonies of conscience which are sympathetically portrayed.

Then Dillwyn’s love of melodrama strikes again, and just as Ethel, who has put two and two together, is about to reveal to Imogen that Sylvester was the thief, an accidental fire devastates the London social gathering that they are all attending. The fire seems to take up a large number of pages, and by the time it is over, Sylvester is safely dead and the others alive if crispy. It’s a little more gracefully executed than in the previous book, and of course Imogen and Sir Charles end up together.

You slightly wish that Imogen had found a way of getting together with Ethel rather than with Sir Charles, and you wonder why Ethel restrains herself from exposing Sylvester. But the story is told in a leisurely fashion, without the previous sense of hurry. It feels a bit more under control than Chloe Arguelle.

This was the one book by Amy Dillwyn that I could not find in electronic format. You can get a paper copy, published by Honno Welsh Women’s Classics, with a foreword by Alison Favre, here.