Monday, December 27, 2010

Gossip in The Perpetual Curate

We can stop tidying the house, sit back and read, and enjoy our gifts.  

There was some tension over the etiquette of whether to invite relatives who might be alone on Christmas, since not until the last minute do their nearest and dearest contact them.  It is hard not to interfere, but if you even HINT that it is someone's duty to invite a mother/father/maiden aunt/twin sister, it might backfire. 
I was raised on Louisa May Alcott, while they were raised by wolves.

I didn't get the Louisa May Alcott biography for Christmas, by the way, but considered checking out Kelly O'Connor McNees's novel, The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, at the library today.
Before Christmas I was reading Mrs. Oliphant's Chronicles of Carlingford and am now back on track.  They're enjoyable popular novels of the 19th century--comparable in some ways to Trollope's Barsetshire series.  The Perpetual Curate, the fourth in the series, is an excellent character study of a brilliant young man who is almost destroyed by unjust gossip in a small town.  There are many similarities between The Perpetual Curate and Salem Chapel (its prececessor, which I wrote about here).

Gossip nearly ruins the ministerial careers of Frank Wentworth in The Perpetual Curate and Arthur Vincent in Salem Chapel.  Frank Wentworth, the Anglican curate of St. Roque's, is in his late twenties, an experienced, respected, hard-working clergyman who has created a mission in Wharfside, a poor neighborhood of Carlingford, in addition to his other duties.  He is in love with Lucy Wodehouse, a lawyer's daughter who works with him among the poor, and it is as a favor to her older sister, Miss Wodehouse, that he complicates his life by helping out their ne'er-do-well brother.  This older brother is unknown to Lucy, who is the child of her father's old age, and Miss Wodehouse is frantic, because his father has disowned him and he has committed a white-collar crime.   He is essentially in hiding at Frank's rooming house.  When a young woman, Rosa, the brazen, slutty niece of a shopkeeper and deacon, disappears, her aunt and uncle blame Frank, who unfortunately was seen talking to her outside his house.  No one connects Rosa with the lurking lodger.

Everything snowballs.

One of the few characters in the novel who defends Frank is Mrs. Morgan, the new rector's wife.

"When the rector's wife went to her own room to dress for dinner, it is very true that she had a good cry over her cup of tea.  She was not only disappointed, but exasperated, in that impatient feminine nature of hers.  Perhaps if she had been less sensitive, she would have had less of that redness in her face which was so great a trouble to Mrs. Morgan.  These two slow middle-aged men, without any intuitions, who were coming lumbering after her through all kind of muddles of evidence and argument, exasperated the more rapid woman.  To be sure, they understood Greek plays a great deal better than she did, but she was penetrated with the liveliest impatience of their dullness all the same.  Mrs. Morgan, however, like most people who are in advance of their age, felt her utter impotence against that blank wall of resistance."

The Perpetual Curate is complex and nightmarish.  There are many eerie parallels between Frank's and the Wodehouses' situation.  His ne'er-do-well older brother, Jack, also appears in Carlingford.

Penelope Fitzgerald's introduction to the Virago edition is very interesting:  it's almost worth buying the edition for the intro.


Anonymous said...

I'm reading Gaskell just now; I really admire how you keep up, Kathy, and how steady and calm you seem.

You've made me long to read Perpetual Curate for its hard truths. Gaskell usually softens so.


Frisbee said...

Gaskell is great. I have good intentions of rereading her. Maybe after The Perpetual Curate I'll read some of the short fiction you're reading.

Anonymous said...

Lady Ludlow. Don't miss it. We are just up to it now. A cross between Cather and Dinesen.

Happy New Year, Kathy,